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Louisville has never reached a Final Four without beating LSU, Maryland or Tennessee along the way.
Tennessee hasn't been to a Final Four since Nikki Caldwell was an assistant coach alongside Holly Warlick
|Louisville coach Jeff Walz, right, was an assistant for Brenda Frese at Minnesota and Maryland.|
Maryland hasn't been to a Final Four since Jeff Walz worked for Brenda Frese.
As for LSU, well, the only No. 7 seed that ever reached the Final Four was Minnesota in 2004. Brenda Frese -- with Walz as one of her assistants -- coached the Gophers for one season in 2001-02.
If you can figure out where Kevin Bacon fits in this Six Degrees of Separation list, let us know. Few introductions will be required along the banks of the Ohio River on Sunday, when upset-minded LSU joins three teams that finished the season ranked in the top 11 of the final regular-season AP Top 25. But there should be some good basketball.
Let's look at three X factors for each matchup.
ESPN, noon ET Sunday
Get to the point: Both teams have senior stars who are going to have the ball in their hands quite a bit of the time, so point guard might be something of a relative position in this game, but we're still going to see a pair of freshmen in those roles: Tennessee's Andraya Carter and Maryland's Lexie Brown.
|Will Terps freshman Lexie Brown win the point guard battle against Tennessee's Andraya Carter?|
Each had plenty of moments this season when she looked like a star in the making or even a star arrived. On occasion, each also looked like a freshman. Carter has a slight advantage in experience, of course, having played seven games a season ago and been around the scene even after an injury forced her to redshirt, but if one looks more comfortable than the other on this stage, it could tip the scales in her team's favor.
Alyssa Thomas vs. Meighan Simmons: No, they aren't going to spend much time going head-to-head, but they're the two dominant presences on the court. Thomas has attempted 197 more shots than any of her Maryland teammates this season, while the margin is 155 shots for Simmons. By the nature of Thomas' game, she is able to affect games even when she's not putting points on the scoreboard. Simmons isn't one-dimensional, but clearly her strongest asset is her point production. So at the risk of stating the obvious, her shot needs to fall. In her first two tournaments, spanning eight games, Simmons averaged 13.4 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting. In six games since, including the first two rounds this season, she averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 28.3 percent.
Mystery guest: We're going to see a lot of Thomas for Maryland and a lot of Simmons and Isabelle Harrison for Tennessee. But if you know who each team's leading scorer will be beyond those players, you have a future waiting for you in Las Vegas. Both teams have plenty of people capable of stepping up on a given night, but who will? Will Cierra Burdick have another big night for the Lady Vols after she scored 21 points against St. John's in the second round, or will Carter or Bashaara Graves deliver? Will Maryland get double-digit points from Lauren Mincy, Brionna Jones or Shatori Walker-Kimbrough? Few, if any, games in this round offer as many potential wild cards as this one.
ESPN2, 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday
Battle of the boards: LSU was not a particularly good rebounding team in the regular season. It wasn't a good rebounding team in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, either -- it was a great rebounding team in those games. The Lady Tigers played 31 games through the regular season and SEC tournament and had 71 more rebounds than their opponents. In two NCAA tournament games against Georgia Tech and West Virginia, they had 42 more rebounds than those teams. That's not all because of one player, but Danielle Ballard is responsible for a lot of it after the 5-foot-9 dynamo pulled down 32 rebounds in two games. When Louisville beat LSU handily in November, blowing the game open with a 32-8 run in the second half, it had a decisive advantage on the boards.
|Senior Shoni Schimmel committed just one turnover in Louisville's first two games.|
Home sweet home: Along with Penn State, LSU is one of two teams to go directly from playing two games on its own court to playing on an opponent's home court in the Sweet 16. That matters. LSU came up with its single biggest win of the season on the road when it won at Tennessee on Jan. 2, but it also heads to Louisville with a 6-7 record in true road games and a 12-4 record at home in Baton Rouge. Those losses include the game against the Cardinals. One stat that jumps out from their travels? LSU averaged 22.6 fouls per game away from Baton Rouge. In home/neutral games, it averaged just 18.8 fouls per game in the regular season and 18.5 in the first two rounds. We just mentioned Ballard. She had 34 fouls in 12 road appearances this season -- and 33 fouls in her other 20 games.
Shoni's show: If you want to see the maturation of Louisville's Shoni Schimmel as a basketball player, look at what she did in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. In a first-round game against Idaho in which Louisville just needed to avoid getting in its own way, she attempted just one 3-pointer, didn't commit a turnover and was involved enough to come up with 11 rebounds. Going head-to-head with Iowa's Samantha Logic on the road in the second round, Schimmel finished with seven assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes and got to the free throw line eight times. That's a master class in poise, and with the exception of some tough games against Connecticut (and who hasn't had those), that's pretty much what she has done all season. Now she's at home for the final weekend and has another pretty good lead guard to deal with in Jeanne Kenney. Can Schimmel keep letting the game come to her?