Louisville hosting Maryland for Final Four berth
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Coach Brenda Frese knows exactly how to handle playing Louisville in the Cardinals’ home with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Look at the Cardinals’ red and pretend it’s all for Maryland, screaming fans included.
”I’m going to embrace the moment, so is our team,” Frese said Monday.
Her Terrapins now must try to add possibly their toughest upset yet of the third-seeded Cardinals in the Louisville Region final Tuesday night. The floor’s been swapped out for the NCAA tournament, so that big Cardinals’ logo is nowhere to be seen. Still, the Cardinals are sleeping in their own beds and had more than 11,000 fans on hand Sunday.
Louisville (34-2) wants its second straight Final Four after losing in the national championship a year ago. Fourth-seeded Maryland wants its fourth Final Four berth all-time and first since winning the 2006 title.
”We’ve worked just as hard as Louisville has,” Frese said. ”This is what you talk about star power, depth, talent, two evenly matched teams. It’s made for TV, two coaches that have worked together, and you’ve got all the drama and all the excitement. We’re going to embrace it. We’re going to love every single moment of it.”
Frese coaching against her former assistant in Louisville coach Jeff Walz is the added backstory with their teams splitting their last two games – all in the NCAA tournament. Walz kept Frese from the 2009 Final Four with a win in the Elite Eight with Maryland native Angel McCoughtry, and the Terrapins took advantage of being at home in 2012 beating Louisville in the second round.
The coaches praised each other Monday with Frese saying she always knew Walz would be a star with his work ethic, and he returned the compliments for Frese giving him enough freedom as an assistant to help him land the Louisville job. They may recognize sets each other runs, but both agree this game will be decided by their players.
”It’s been seven years, so a lot has changed with both of our programs,” Walz said.
Maryland (27-6) knocked off top-seeded Tennessee 73-62 to advance to its fifth Elite Eight. Louisville has routed three straight opponents, the last a 73-47 win over LSU to kick off the first regional the Cardinals have ever hosted.
So even though all the players know the coaches’ history, a ticket to Nashville is what they are focused on now.
”I feel like the motivation basically is just it’s an Elite Eight game, and we just want to get out there and play our hardest because our goal is to get to the Final Four,” Louisville guard Bria Smith said.
Five things to know about Tuesday night’s final:
SLOWING ALYSSA THOMAS: The three-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year is coming off a career-high 33 points, and she also grabbed 13 rebounds against Tennessee. She’s averaging 19.1 points a game but will be looking for a bit of redemption after being held to six points in that 2012 game by Louisville. Thomas said the Cardinals tried to get in her head.
BENCH EDGE: Both teams played through injuries and short benches last season. Now Louisville’s reserves have outscored their opponents’ benches 84-2 in the NCAA tournament, including a 28-0 edge against LSU. Maryland is outscoring the other bench 34.2-19.1 points per game through the season with the Terps’ bench putting up 40 or more in 14 games.
RAINING 3s: The Cardinals knocked down a season-high 12 3-pointers in beating LSU, and Tia Gibbs tied her career-high with five 3s. Four other Cardinals hit at least one apiece.
HEIGHT ADVANTAGE: Maryland has a decided height advantage with seven Terrapins 6-foot or taller, including a pair at 6-4 in Alicia DeVaughn and Malina Howard. Brionna Jones is 6-3. Seven Cardinals are listed at 6-foot or taller, though Walz joked that they lie about their height. ”We’re all about 6-foot if we’re lucky.”
EXPERIENCE: Frese has a national title, but Walz notes his Cardinals are one of only three programs to play for at least two national titles in the past five years. The other two? UConn and Notre Dame.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker