No. 4 seed Louisville seeks longer stay in NCAA Tournament
After consecutive earlier-than-expected exits from the NCAA Tournament, Louisville is motivated to make another deep postseason run it had been accustomed to after reaching the championship game in 2013 and regional final in 2014.
To do that, the Cardinals will need to create and seize opportunities better than they have in their last two tournament appearances - particularly after bowing out at home last March in the second round.
''We see so many teams where there are upsets, so we have to be ready,'' Louisville forward Myisha Hines-Allen said. ''Just to be able to play, hopefully two games at home, that is huge.''
First up for the fourth-seeded Cardinals (27-7) in Saturday's first-round game is No. 13 seed Chattanooga (21-10), which they beat 63-47 in the Hall of Fame Women's Challenge in November. Both teams have come a long way since then, and Walz is making sure his Cardinals take nothing for granted.
Louisville had won seven straight games before losing to Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Walz is now stressing doing the little things right to create bigger results.
''We certainly didn't take last year as a given that we'd move on just by playing at home,'' Louisville coach Jeff Walz said this week. ''Everybody understands that the goal is to advance and you can't look past the first round, or even the second round. We know that this time of year, you have to play your best basketball.''
No detail is too small against a Chattanooga squad that's also coming together at the right time of the year after starting 5-8.
The Mocs played a tough non-conference schedule featuring five ranked teams including defending national champion UConn and Notre Dame - both No. 1 tournament seeds - along with Louisville.
Chattanooga regrouped to win the Southern Conference Tournament championship for an automatic bid and enters with a six-game winning streak. All of which makes coach Jim Foster looks back on that early ''spin cycle'' of a schedule somewhat fondly.
''When that cycle stopped and we hit the bottom of the machine,'' Foster said, ''we started to become a pretty good basketball team.''
The winner advances to Monday's second round against the winner between No. 5 seed Tennessee (19-11) and No. 12 seed Dayton (22-9).
Here are other things to watch this weekend in Louisville:
MILESTONE NEAR: Louisville sophomore guard Asia Durr has 963 career points and could reach 1,000 if the Cardinals reach Monday's second round. Should she become the program's 28th player to do so, it would mark the first time in 25 seasons that the Cardinals had three players reach the milestone in the same season. Juniors Myisha Hines-Allen and Mariya Moore both did so in November.
EARLY DRAFT ENTRIES? Tennessee's Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell chose to focus on Dayton rather than answer questions about the possibility of entering the WNBA draft as fourth-year juniors. DeShields in particular sounded geeked up about playing another NCAA postseason.
''This is why you come to college. This is why you play,'' said DeShields, whose father, DeLino, manages the Cincinnati Reds' Class AAA Louisville affiliate. ''This is why we're all here - for March, to compete for that trophy. So, yeah, it's a lot of fun just being here with you guys and with each other, and all the fans that come on the road with us and support us.''
JACKSON'S HEALTH: Walz said that senior point guard Briahanna Jackson will play but not start after returning from back spasms that sidelined her for eight games. She ranks second on the team with 117 assists and 39 steals.
AP freelance writer Steve Bittenbender in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.