The Norman Transcript

April 3, 2013

Cardinals are the fun team heading into the Final Four

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — If you’re an Oklahoma fan, you may have been rooting for Tennessee, because losing tends to feel a little better when the team that beat you keeps going and going and going.

If so, that’s unfortunate, because you should have been rooting for Louisville after Sunday night and not just because the Cardinals took down the juggernaut previously known as the Baylor Lady Bears.

Really, there are times when Shoni Schimmel’s dribbling the ball around the court that you’re thinking what’s missing is “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

There are other times you wonder if the Cardinals can really be for real, because their offense seems like something made up on the fly — the run and shoot? — and their defense often looks more like a chase scene than any zone or man-to-man.

Consider it all a long way of saying Louisville, after knocking off Tennessee 86-78 Tuesday night, is a team for the masses.

The Cardinals are not a No. 1-seed like Notre Dame or Connecticut, one half of the Final Four beginning Sunday in New Orleans. Nor are they a No. 2 like Cal.

They’re what passes for Cinderella this deep into the women’s tournament: a No. 4-seed that barely passes the eye test, yet brash enough to talk trash to Brittney Griner and Baylor, with a coach, Jeff Walz, funny enough to throw out one-liners in his press conferences, daring enough to go for home run passes off inbound plays under the opponent’s bucket and unassuming enough to dress like a sportswriter — slacks, oxford, rolled up sleeves, no tie, shoes and belt (if you were wondering).

And, not that unlike Sherri Coale’s Sooners, who were never supposed to reach the Sweet 16 but did so by finding a gear previously undiscovered, Louisville has, too, since arriving in Oklahoma City.

The Cardinals averaged 71.6 points per game before visiting Chesapeake Energy Arena, but hung 82 on Baylor and still more against the Lady Vols.

They were hitting 31 percent of their 3-pointers before touching down at Will Rogers World Airport, but hit 24 of 48 over their short stay in the Sooner State.

Maybe they have no chance upon arrival in the Big Easy because there’s that thing about defense winning championships and the Cardinals are also the team that threatened to give back huge leads against Baylor and Tennessee and may be the only team in the history of the NCAA tournament, men or women, to win back-to-back games in which it allowed 159 combined points.

Of course, it’s going to be fun to watch them try.

Against the Lady Vols, they came out flying for a second straight night, taking their first 10-point lead halfway through the first half.

Yet again it was the way they took it, with Schimmel controlling things with a dribble that might be described as cocky, creating the kind of frenetic and frantic atmosphere that seems to fuel her and her teammates while paralyzing opponents.

And when she wasn’t doing it, it was her sister, Jude Schimmel, doing it. They don’t look like the same player, but they play like the same player.

Louisville, in many ways, was actually better against Tennessee than it had been against Baylor.

Turnovers were down from 21 to 15, rebounding went from a minus-12 discrepancy against the Lady Bears to dead even — 38-38 — against the Lady Vols.

If none of that’s enough to jump on the Cardinals’ bandwagon, the Tennessee band never quit playing ‘Rocky Top’ while the Louisville band reprised the Blues Brothers.

If you needed a tiebreaker, that one’s easy.

Over the next week, somebody’s bound to write about parity, how Cal and Louisville reaching the Final Four, and Stanford and Baylor not reaching it, is good for the women’s game.

It is, but it misses the point played out the last three days in Oklahoma City.

The fun team won.

Nobody else was close.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning

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