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Just about anyone who watched a minute of the NCAA tournament a season ago remembers the heartbreak with which Xavier exited the event, losing a regional final after Dee Dee Jernigan missed two open layups in the closing seconds and Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen went end to end to score the winner as time expired.
Less memorable, if only because it shared the night in question with seven other games, was a second-round game between Xavier and Vanderbilt at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati that nearly kept the Musketeers from advancing in the first place. In that game, Vanderbilt's Jence Rhoads watched her shot at the buzzer come off the rim and preserve a Xavier victory.
As good as Xavier was throughout the careers of Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips (not to mention oft-overlooked point guard Special Jennings), it had a way of courting disaster in the postseason.
|Louisville freshman point guard Shoni Schimmel scored a career-high 33 points to down Xavier.|
And considering what Louisville freshman Shoni Schimmel can do with even a sliver of daylight, you can't open the door of opportunity when she's wearing the other uniform.
Some initial thoughts on Louisville's 85-75 upset Tuesday. Xavier had won 25 consecutive games at home, dating to December 2009.
Turning point: With her team down 70-64 with five minutes to play, Schimmel took a long outlet pass just over the half-court line, took two dribbles and launched a long 3-pointer. It only cut the deficit to three points, but it seemed to take some life out of Xavier. The Musketeers wouldn't score another point until a free throw with 1:23 to play and Louisville leading by five points.
Key player: More Schimmel. What can you say about a freshman who scored 33 points in a hostile environment? (Although, at least from the shots on television, the Louisville fans need a measure of credit for filling up a lot of seats in Cincinnati.) The turnaround jumper and pull-up 3-pointer she hit in the closing minutes to give Louisville a 73-70 lead it wouldn't relinquish were the kind of clutch shots even a lot of senior stars don't want on their shoulders.
Unsung hero: Tia Gibbs. The Louisville sophomore was a key offensive figure in the first-round victory against Vanderbilt. She didn't put up quite as many points (or shots) this time around, but her steadiness on both ends of the court, especially as a scorer or game manager on offense, gave Schimmel freedom to improvise and look to score.
Key stat: 28 rebounds. Xavier couldn't manage better than a 28-28 draw on the boards against the smaller Cardinals.
What's next: A Cinderella special in Spokane pitting No. 7 seed Louisville against 11th-seeded Gonzaga. And forget the seedings -- there might not be a more exciting individual duel in the tournament than Schimmel going head to head with Gonzaga senior Courtney Vandersloot and few better coaching duels than Louisville's Jeff Walz against Gonzaga's Kelly Graves. The game in Spokane will amount to a home game for Gonzaga, but it's also close to a homecoming for Schimmel, an Oregon product.