(AP) – Every women’s college basketball team’s goal this season was to make it to Tampa, site of the women’s Final Four.
Third-seeded Louisville finds itself here two weeks earlier than it might have hoped, sent on the road because its home arena is hosting men’s tournament games.
That leaves the Cardinals with a tough path just to get to the Sweet 16, beginning Saturday at the Sun Dome – home of No. 6 seed South Florida – against 14th-seeded BYU.
”I think it’s an advantage for us, not to have to play them at home,” said Cougars coach Jeff Judkins, whose team won two games last year as a No. 12 seed. ”I feel bad that they’ve had a great season and they wanted to host, but sometimes things have to bounce your way. Hopefully we’ll take advantage of that.”
Louisville (25-6) lost just one game at home this season, and they’ve lost only one game to an unranked opponent all season. Beat the Cougars (23-9) on Saturday and the Cardinals will then have to face either USF, which went 12-2 on its home floor, or No. 11 seed LSU.
Louisville’s top two scorers are freshmen, with Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen averaging 13.8 and 11.5 points. The other three starters are seniors, giving coach Jeff Walz a mix of youth and experience entering the tournament.
The Cardinals were second in the ACC and ninth in the nation in assists with 17.5 per game, and they’re 17-0 when they have at least 16. They didn’t get that many in any of their three losses in five games down the stretch, including a 66-51 defeat to Florida State in the conference tournament.
"This year we have relied on each other to get shots, leading to three players closing in on 100 assists," Walz said.
Yet the biggest advantage Louisville has may come on the glass. The Cardinals have a plus-7.2 rebounding advantage per game, while BYU’s minus-1.4 differential is tied for 54th in the tournament field.
The Cougars went into the West Coast Conference tournament losers of four of five, but bounced back to win the tourney as the league’s fifth seed. BYU is led by junior guard Lexi Eaton, who is the fifth-highest scorer in the tournament field at 20.7 points per game, and senior forward Morgan Bailey, who ranks 19th at 17.3 per contest.
Bailey, the WCC Player of the Year, also averaged 10.5 rebounds.
While BYU made it to the Sweet 16 last season and only trailed eventual national champion UConn by one at halftime before falling 70-51, Louisville made it to the regional finals – also as a No. 3 seed – before losing to fourth-seeded Maryland.
BYU and Louisville have met only once before, also in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville won an opening-round matchup 80-54 in 2007.