Middle Tennessee-Louisville Preview
The Cardinals don't want to get overly excited about opening the NCAA tournament at home in Louisville.
So coach Jeff Walz has his players staying in their dorms and going to class as he tries to keep their routine as close to normal as possible. Louisville (24-8) ranked third nationally averaging 9,577 this season in the KFC Yum! Center. Walz is expecting between 8,000 and 10,000 fans, maybe more if fans just want more hoops after the men's team returns from Lexington.
So it'll be the usual team meal followed by curfew.
''I definitely don't want to change things up to try to throw a kink in the plan,'' Walz said Saturday.
Louisville hosted the NCAA tournament in 2010, but didn't qualify for the tournament after making a run to the championship game a year before. The Cardinals lost to national champion Connecticut in 2009. Now the Cardinals are in their third season in their modern arena - and though they've lost two of their last three games - are looking to turn things around.
And Louisville has had success in its building, going 14-2 this season.
''It's the NCAA tournament,'' Louisville junior guard Shoni Schimmel said. ''So for us to have that home advantage it's great for us because we can go out there and have our home crowd behind us. With being 14-2, it shows we like the home crowd a lot more than any other crowd.''
Playing a tournament game on an opponent's home floor is nothing new for Middle Tennessee (25-7). The Blue Raiders lost to Vanderbilt in Memorial Gym a year ago, and they just missed upsetting Michigan State in East Lansing 60-59 in 2009. They have avid support themselves, and junior Ebony Rowe is a Lexington native who will have family and friends in the stands.
''We went to Tennessee, and there was a lot of orange at Tennessee,'' Middle Tennessee senior guard Kortni Jones said. ''We're going to just take it as it comes. Our fans will be there, and we know we'll have a corner of blue, and that's really all we feel like we need.''
The Blue Raiders have won seven straight coming out of the Sun Belt as tournament champs and want the program's first NCAA win since 2007 when they also were a 12 seed. Coach Rick Insell said winning in the tournament has been a rallying cry since the loss a year ago.
''To be the program we want to be, we have to win some games, not just a game. Games,'' Insell said. ''They've been talking about that all year.''
The Cardinals have a size advantage in the post thanks to 6-foot-2 Sara Hammond and 6-4 Sheronne Vails, and 6-1 senior Monique Reid has had a week since the Big East tournament semifinal loss to rest her aching left knee. Schimmel leads Louisville with 13.8 points a game and has been shooting better since Walz moved Bria Smith to point guard for the last 17 games.
Rowe leads Middle Tennessee averaging 19.9 points and 11.1 rebounds a game, and Hammond, an AAU teammate for a year, knows the 6-foot-1 forward well.
''We've just been preparing for her and her teammates,'' Hammond said. ''It's going to be an exciting game, especially in the post since we play against each other.''