AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas and Louisville already met once this season, back in a November tournament in the breezy Bahamas.
The Cardinals edged the Longhorns that day as both were ranked in the top 10 and set expectations for deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.
After a long season of ups and downs for both, they meet again Monday night on the Longhorns’ home court with much more on the line: a trip to the Sweet 16. And it promises to be one of the most physical matches of the tournament.
“Both teams have that aggression in them,” Texas point guard Rori Harmon said. “It’s part of their culture, it’s how we both play.”
Fourth-seeded Texas (26-9) has advanced to the Elite Eight each of the last two seasons. Fifth-seeded Louisville (24-11) has reached the Elite Eight or Final Four in each of the last four tournaments.
Louisville players say they know the first meeting between the teams, which the Cardinals won 71-63, is now largely meaningless. First, the Longhorns were missing Harmon, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the spark plug for everything they do on both ends of the court.
Harmon missed the first five games of the season with a toe injury and Texas lost three straight without her. Everything she does for the Longhorns was on display in their first round win over East Carolina as she had eight assists in the first half alone.
Texas shooting guard Shaylee Gonzales, a transfer from BYU, handled the point the first time the Longhorns and Cardinals met. She’s much happier now roaming the wings for open 3-pointers
“We were all new, we had never really played with each other,” Gonzales said. “Obviously super happy she’s back because I was super stressed to be thrown into that position.”
Louisville’s starting court of Hailey Van Lith and Mykasa Robinson will be challenged by Harmon’s elite speed, but Van Lith seemed to enjoy the matchup.
“Rori changes their team a little bit in the fact that she has elite court vision,” Van Lith said. “To wear her out in the backcourt, full court defense will be huge for us.”
Van Lith took over the fourth quarter in the first round against Drakeand scored 13 points in the final four minutes to save the Cardinals from their first opening-round loss since 2006.
She and Robinson will have some big bodies to contend with under the basket against Texas. The Longhorns are the biggest team in the Big 12 and throw bodies in the basket all game long.
Even with that size, Texas coach Vic Schaefer said he will push his post players to be game-ready.
“We have the biggest team in the Big 12, and so even in the NCAA tournament, we have to take advantage of that,” Schaefer said. “We cannot be bullied. So I have challenged our children not to let that happen. You have to fight back. You just do.”
Texas is 22-0 this season when the Longhorns hold opponents under 60 points. The Longhorns held East Carolina under 10 points in the final three quarters. The Pirates did not score a field goal in the fourth.
Louisville forced 14 first-half turnovers against Drake, turning them into 14 critical points in a game that went down to the final possession.
“They can turn turnovers into layups in a hurry. We’ll both put a premium on taking care of the ball,” Schaefer said.
Most of Louisville’s recent success in the NCAA Tournament has started on the Cardinals’ home field. Except for the 2021 pandemic tournament played entirely in Texas, Louisville had hosted the first two rounds in the previous six seasons.
Walz is unfazed by playing on Texas’ home field Monday.
“There’s definitely a home field advantage and that’s what they’ve earned. We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that,” Walz said. – It must be a great environment. And that’s what you want. I’d rather come out and record from 8,000 than in front of 300. And so will our kids … I hope it’s a packed house.”
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