Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Schimmel sisters unite, push Cards to Final Four
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By JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Jude Schimmel used to tell her older sister, Shoni, she didn't want to play basketball at the same college as her.
The two pictured themselves living out a sibling rivalry like the ones on Disney Channel shows they grew up watching in Oregon, competing against each other with bragging rights on the line.
Except that's not the way it turned out. As the sport of women's basketball is finding out, they're so much better together.
United at Louisville, the Schimmel sisters have guided the Cardinals on an unexpected Final Four run, knocking off Brittney Griner and top-ranked Baylor in a stunner and then eight-time national champion Tennessee to earn a trip to New Orleans.
They'll take on California in the national semifinals Sunday.
"I tricked her," said Jude, a sophomore and one year behind her sister. "I was really going to go to the school she went to."
The Cardinals couldn't be happier she did.
Shoni has been the star of the show, earning most outstanding player honors in the Oklahoma City regional with her combination of accurate 3-point shooting and fearless drives to the basket. Maybe most memorably, she went right at Griner -- the 6-foot-8 Baylor star who counts the NCAA blocks record among her many career achievements -- and went airborne, spun with her back to the basket and sunk an over-her-head shot while getting fouled.
It's among the top highlights of the tournament and a personification of Louisville's willingness to take on the giants of the game and accomplish the seemingly impossible. That it happened while the men's team also advanced to the Final Four is a bonus back on campus.
Jude has made key contributions as Louisville's top reserve, scoring 15 points -- behind only her sister's 24 -- in the upset of Tennessee. After the Lady Vols climbed back from a 20-point deficit to get within three, Shoni had a pair of driving layups and Jude hit a 3-pointer and assisted on a layup during the Cardinals' game-clinching response.
Louisville is only the second No. 5 seed to reach the Final Four and the seventh team seeded higher than fourth to make it that far.
"Those Schimmel sisters are the most exciting players in the country right now," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who has led his own team to the Final Four again on the opposite side of the bracket.
"I watched the game and saw pictures of them when they were young," he said. "The road those kids traveled and where they are and no one knows their story probably. What they've done the last week has made everyone stand up and take notice of these two kids and the joy that they play. The fearlessness that they play with, they love the game and you can tell they love the game. They are tough kids."
The Schimmels, two of seven siblings, grew up in Mission, Ore., on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Shoni was the breakout star, attracting the attention of Louisville coach Jeff Walz and assistant Steph Norman.
"Obviously, Shoni was a year older and Shoni was the one that got all the press, all the pub. But we both really liked how Jude competed," Walz said. "I mean, she was kind of a little bit everywhere. She's a pest. She'll get out there and guard you and knock down some shots."
They decided to not just go after Shoni, but both. All that talk about being rivals disappeared when it was decision time.
"I remember her sitting there saying she didn't want to go to the same school," Shoni said. "But it was a blessing when she did."
During a preseason exhibition trip to Vancouver two years ago, the Cardinals made a stop at the reservation the Schimmels call home. This week, their parents drove all the way from Oregon to Oklahoma City -- some 1,600 miles -- to see them. Fans in the crowd held up signs that said "Rez ball" and the Schimmels' jersey numbers, 22 and 23.
"We owe a lot to where we came from, our family and also our coaches and teammates, but really it's just a blessing," Jude said. "It just so happened we made it to the same school, and I'm just thankful."
There's one more big stop on their journey, one they first started thinking about back in middle school.
"I'm really excited for both of them because they both, I think, made a big jump to come to Louisville, to come so far away from home, because it's not the norm," Walz said. "And I think they both are excited about it because they've grown as people and grown as individuals, and hopefully when they're finished up here, they'll be able to either go back home if they want, go someplace else, but they will know that they can do it because they went through a great experience here at Louisville."
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.