On Selection Monday, the path was made clear for the Louisville Cardinals: two wins in the NCAA Tournament would send the Cardinals home to play the Regional rounds of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the KFC Yum! Center.
The first part of that path was completed Sunday evening, as the third-seeded Cardinals (31-4) blew past No. 14 Idaho (25-9) 88-42 in an NCAA Tournament First Round game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It is the fifth tournament game in 2014 to be decided by more than 35 points.
Five players reached double figures for Louisville, who received a three-seed from the NCAA Tournament committee despite being ranked No. 4 in the final Top 25 poll. Leading the way was junior forward Sara Hammond with 16 points. Adding a double-double of ten points and 11 rebounds was senior guard Shoni Schimmel. Idaho was paced by sophomore center Ali Forde, who scored 16 points.
Louisville struggled early with the Vandals, who were making their third NCAA Tournament appearance as champions of the Western Athletic Conference. Idaho led 6-5 six minutes into the game, but Louisville’s stingy defense and athleticism overwhelmed the Vandals, as the Cardinals went on a 21-7 run in the middle of the first half, and finished the frame on a 10-0 run to open up a 40-21 halftime lead. Louisville would dominate the second half as well, cruising to the 46-point victory.
Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said he was pleased with the way his team responded to a slow start.
“I thought we fought through the first four or five minutes of the game where we did not play extremely well, but we played hard,” Walz said. “We finally got things under control, we relaxed, and we did some good things both offensively and defensively.”
The Cardinals, although not possessing a great size advantage, dominated the Vandals on the glass, recording a 42-23 edge in rebounding. The Louisville defense was also able to impose its will on Idaho, forcing 18 turnovers.
Idaho head coach Jon Newlee said an underdog like the Vandals needed a near-perfect offensive game to top the powerhouse Cardinals.
“If we were going to get in this game, and pull an upset, we had to play a lot better on the offensive end than we did tonight,” Newlee said.
Shoni Schimmel said Louisville’s dominance on the glass was something she was focused on, and was something needed for wins in the Tournament.
“That’s how you survive in post-season play — rebounding, defending, and taking care of the ball,” Schimmel said. “I took it kind of personal because I want to win.”
Walz addressed the possibility of playing at home should the Cardinals win in Iowa City on Tuesday, stating that he hopes the tournament will reach a point where games are played at neutral sites, even though the Cardinals would benefit from the arrangement if they win.
“If we’re fortunate enough to win, we’re going back home to play in a regional, which blows my mind,” Walz said. “I’m glad… we’re only doing it for one year, because that’s not what should happen.”
The Cardinals will face the winner of No. 6 Iowa and No. 11 Marist Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. back at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.