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Louisville simply dominates Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Interesting how different your perspective is depending on where you are in the "food chain" of a sport.

If you ask Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, she'll say she hopes her Hawkeyes will get to the kind of summit that Louisville has reached as a program that has been to the Women's Final Four twice in the past five years.

But if you ask Louisville coach Jeff Walz, he'll say the Cardinals are still fighting to be truly considered one of the elites in women's basketball.

"What we're trying to do right now is prove that we belong," Walz said before his No. 3 seed Cardinals trounced No. 6 seed Iowa 83-53 in Tuesday's second-round game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "I think a lot of that, with our seed, has to do with respect. We have to do our job to earn respect. I think if we're a program that had been around for 20 years, we may have gotten a better seed. Who knows? Our kids are playing for respect right now."

More than a little overkill on the whole "respect" lament that coaches love to use for motivation? Yeah, kind of. But Walz knows basketball inside and out. He's well aware that the difference is pretty negligible between being a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in regard to your competitive path to making a potential regional final.

But if the Cardinals feel underestimated and translate it to fuel, that's just fine with Walz. As well as Louisville played in the first and second rounds here -- following a dominant victory over Idaho with an even more impressive one over host Iowa -- you can't question any of the strategic moves/comments he has made.

Look out, other teams at the Louisville Regional: No. 1 seed Tennessee, No. 4 Maryland and No. 7 LSU, which is the Cardinals' next opponent. Louisville is coming home to the KFC Yum! Center looking like a team ready to seize another trip to the Final Four.

"I'm really proud of every single one of our players," Walz said after Tuesday's victory. "Defensively, that's one of the best performances we've had this entire season."

And the offense was pretty great, too. The full catalog of senior Shoni Schimmel was on display. She scored 26 points, making some tough shots look easy. And she had seven assists, five steals, five rebounds and just one turnover.

The knock on Schimmel at times is that she might put too much razzmatazz into her performances, taking away a bit from her efficiency. But these first two NCAA tournament games served to counter that. Schimmel, like the rest of her team, was all about execution.

And we don't mean that in some kind of generic way. Louisville knew exactly how to frustrate Idaho in the first round and Iowa in the second. As a result, what was expected to be a potential tough hurdle Tuesday for the Cardinals to get over to advance to the regional semifinals was, instead, another Louisville romp.

Which is saying a lot, because Iowa, which finished 27-9 and was runner-up in the Big Ten tournament, is certainly not a bad team. Nor are the Hawkeyes normally so scattered-looking on offense. But Louisville made it appear that way Tuesday.

"We didn't help off shooters," Walz said of shutting down the Hawkeyes. "We forced them to finish shots."

Iowa didn't do much of that; the Hawkeyes shot 33.3 percent from the field, and made just 1-of-16 3-pointers.

The key to slowing Iowa is slowing point guard Samantha Logic, and Louisville did that. Logic made 6 of 11 shots and finished with 12 points, but she didn't get to run her team the way she usually does. She finished with nine turnovers and just didn't look like her usual self.

Jude Schimmel and Bria Smith were the primary defenders responsible for disrupting Logic.

"We knew they were going to have pressure," said Logic, a junior who is one of four starters who'll return next season for Iowa. "We knew they would have some traps, different defenses. It wasn't really anything we weren't expecting."

Yes, but knowing it's coming, and being able to do much about it, are two very different things. Walz has known for a while he has a good offensive team. He has been waiting to see if the Cardinals can reach the level of defense he thinks they're capable of. In these two NCAA tournament games, they did.

Playing UConn three times, of course, has helped. Walz pointed out after the American tournament final on March 10 that even though Louisville lost by 20 points that night, he saw things his team had done better than in their previous two losses to the Huskies.

The Cardinals practiced well in the two weeks between their conference tournament's conclusion and Sunday's NCAA opener. So Walz was confident they would not be bothered by the added pressure of "needing" to win to make it back to the regional they were hosting. And, indeed, they never looked as though they were feeling that as a burden (the way, for instance, Nebraska did as the Huskers lost in the second round to BYU on Monday).

"We tried not to think about that stuff," Shoni Schimmel said. "We took it as, 'We're ready for this.'"

Now, though, are the Cardinals ready to go into the Sweet 16 as not so much a scrappy underdog -- like they were last year -- but rather as a team no one will be surprised to see get to Nashville?

Last season as a No. 5 seed, Louisville pulled one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, beating No. 1 seed Baylor in the Sweet 16. The Cardinals followed that with a victory over Tennessee, which this year, as mentioned, is the top seed in the Louisville Regional and could meet Walz's crew again with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Even if Louisville is the No. 3 seed, nobody with any sense is going to be calling the Cardinals "underdogs" in this region. Also, they will truly not be underdogs, seeding-wise, in the regional semifinal against LSU, which upset No. 2 seed West Virginia on Tuesday. Louisville defeated LSU 88-67 at the Yum! Center way back on Nov. 14. But before the Cardinals had even left Iowa City, Walz had reminded his players that LSU would be all the more motivated to avenge that loss four months ago and get a chance to face Tennessee or Maryland.

And, yes, he might still use the sarcastic "We're not bad for a No. 3 seed" line to rile up the Cardinals a bit, too. Whatever works. But the bottom line is, the Cardinals didn't tear through Iowa City just because they were miffed about seeding.

They did it because they really are that good, and they played like it.