Louisville forward Myisha Hines-Allen has stepped up her game in the NCAA Tournament and the freshman's performance will be a major factor in whether the Cardinals continue to advance.
She's the Cardinals' second-leading scorer and has been their offensive leader in the postseason, averaging 12.5 points per game. That includes 31 points in early round victories over Brigham Young and South Florida that have propelled third-seeded Louisville (27-6) into its fourth Sweet 16 in five years.
Next up for Hines-Allen and the Cardinals is a matchup with No. 7 seed Dayton in Saturday's Albany regional semifinal. The Flyers upset Kentucky 99-94 in Lexington to advance.
Now Dayton turns its attention to containing Hines-Allen and fellow freshman Mariya Moore, the other half of what has become Louisville's 1-2 scoring punch.
''I've just wanted to be aggressive and keep it going,'' said Hines-Allen, the 6-foot-2 New Jersey native. ''When I play more aggressive on defense, I'm better on defense and then everything else becomes easier.''
That was pretty clear from the time she stepped on Louisville's campus; Hines-Allen averaged 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds after her first 10 collegiate games. Her consistent shooting has been the most pleasant surprise for the Cardinals.
Most importantly, Hines-Allen has teamed with the 6-0 Moore (13.5 points) to form a formidable scoring duo, filling the void after the departure of Shoni Schimmel, the second-leading career scorer at Louisville. Atlantic Coast Conference coaches took note in voting both to the league's All-Freshman team, with Moore earning second team all-conference honors as well.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz is pleased with how both freshmen have meshed with senior Sara Hammond (10.5 points, 6.4 rebounds) to provide a solid frontcourt. Hines-Allen has added assertiveness, especially in the postseason, maneuvering into position for easy baskets and getting to the line.
''When we were recruiting her, everything we heard was good but we didn't know about her consistency,'' Walz said. ''You can get away with some things in high school, but they need to be corrected sooner or later. She's improved and has had some fantastic games this season.''
Hines-Allen might need another one to push the Cardinals past Dayton (27-6), in its first Sweet 16 in six NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Flyers made 11 3-pointers against Kentucky and got 28 points from Ally Malott and 23 from Amber Deane. They'll likely attack Louisville with the same fast-paced, long-range approach the Flyers used to upend the Cardinals' in-state rivals.
Of course, the Cardinals plan to have something to say about that.
But to slow down the Flyers, Hines-Allen will need to create opportunities for teammates by having an impact on both ends of the floor.
She's done well, shaking off initial nerves to become a major contributor while getting comfortable with college life. She had a little trouble adjusting, but after Walz and some of her veteran teammates told Hines-Allen she couldn't act like a freshman, she started to come out of her shell - on and off the court.
Hines-Allen intends to make her presence felt on Saturday.
''I was a little nervous at first, but I opened up and started to become more confident,'' she said. ''I don't feel like a freshman anymore.''