March 9, 2013
Louisville, Ky. (AP) -- -
The banged-up 13th-ranked Louisville Cardinals begin the postseason Sunday in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Tournament.
Louisville (23-7, 11-5 Big East) lost three of its final six regular season games to finish fourth in the conference. That earned a double bye into the tournament quarterfinals, where the Cardinals will face either fifth-seeded St. Johns at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Second-ranked Notre Dame, the regular season champion that dealt Louisville its worst loss this year, is the likely opponent if the Cardinals reach Monday's semifinal. Third-ranked Connecticut is the favorite on the other side of the bracket.
Cardinals coach Jeff Walz and his players know they need a flawless stretch to win the Big East title.
The Last Meeting
January 27, 2013
KFC YUM! CENTER
No matter how the Cardinals fare in Hartford, they will have home court advantage in the NCAA tournament as hosts for the first and second rounds on March 24 and 26.
While most coaches have a clear understanding of their teams at this point in the season, Walz doesn't.
"We have what we have, and that's uncertainty," he said.
Injuries have been the culprit this season as Louisville lost three players, while senior forward Monique Reid is a game-by-game decision with a bone bruise in her left knee. With the double bye assured, Reid sat out Monday's 68-57 loss at No. 24 Syracuse in the regular season finale to rest for the tournament.
The missing players - guard Tia Gibbs, forward Asia Taylor and center Shawnta' Dyer - and limited minutes from former all-conference selection Reid have forced others into larger roles and left little margin for mistakes.
"Right now, we just don't have much room for error," Walz said.
Junior Antonita Slaughter started all 16 Big East contests, averaging 13.3 points a game and sharing the team lead for rebounds (88) in conference play. The 6-foot-1 guard was named second team All-Big East on Thursday, joining guard Shoni Schimmel, a first-team selection.
"We've never looked back or felt sorry for ourselves," Slaughter said. "We've just come together with the team that we had."
Walz said he has stressed one-on-one defense and creating transition opportunities in Louisville's final practices before the tournament.
The Cardinals' main question is who they will face.
A St. John's win set up a rematch of one of Louisville's closest victories. The Cardinals survived the Red Storm 57-54 at home on Jan. 27 by scoring eight unanswered late in the game.
Louisville isn't looking past the Big East, but appreciates knowing where it will play in the NCAA tournament and the advantages of hosting.
"Everybody on our team, we're just stoked we get to have the home crowd," Schimmel said. "For us to have the upper hand in a sense is just great for us. I think that's where we're going to make our run, in the NCAA tournament, just because we're kind of due."
Slaughter offered a bolder prediction.
"With all of our fan support, I don't think anyone can stop us on our own floor," she said.
Louisville ranked second nationally behind Tennessee in per-game attendance per game in 2012, averaging 10,670. The Cardinals have lost twice at home this season.
Two wins in their own arena would give the school its fourth Sweet 16 appearance in school history, all since Walz arrived in 2008.
"It's a big advantage but you're going to be playing good basketball teams so you're still going to have to show up and execute," Walz said of hosting. "That's the part of it that I'm trying to get them to understand now: we still have to take care of ourselves. We have to take care of the basketball, we have to defend and we have to rebound if we want to advance."