Commentary

Cards back for more vs. Lady Vols

Originally Published: April 1, 2013
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

OKLAHOMA CITY -- You probably saw the photo: Louisville guard Shoni Schimmel appearing to yell right at Baylor center Brittney Griner after scoring against her Sunday. A picture of intense competitiveness? A player who should have gotten a technical?

The consensus opinion was … there was no consensus. Some spectators of No. 5 seed Louisville's 82-81 upset victory over No. 1 Baylor on Sunday were castigating Schimmel and the Cardinals for what they considered overly physical play and other antics. That would include former Baylor quarterback and Griner pal Robert Griffin III.

[+] EnlargeShoni Schimmel
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiShoni Schimmel and No. 5 seed Louisville look for another upset Tuesday against second-seeded Tennessee.

Others vigorously defended the Cardinals, saying Baylor gave as good as it got, and pointing out that Louisville was called for 10 more fouls than the Lady Bears. That would include former Louisville/current Atlanta Dream star Angel McCoughtry.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz noted a "Twitter debate" between RGIII and McCoughtry, and was proud that his former standout was sticking up for her alma mater.

And then there are those folks who aren't getting into this argument. They are only looking ahead. That would include Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, whose Lady Vols next face Louisville on Tuesday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) for a trip to the Women's Final Four.

"Well, I would not be truthful if I didn't say I was glad Baylor is out of the tournament," Warlick acknowledged of the NCAA roadblock that the Lady Bears have been for Tennessee two of the past three years. "But these young ladies have kept things in perspective, and I think they understand what's ahead of them and what they need to do to get the job done."

Indeed, the Tennessee players didn't do any public celebrating of Baylor's demise. They know that a Louisville team able to take down the Lady Bears could do the same to anyone else. Furthermore, Warlick said she understood how bad Baylor is feeling, because Tennessee has been there before as a big favorite that was upset in the NCAA tournament.

[+] EnlargeCreighton/Tennessee
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsSenior Taber Spani is still seeking her first Final Four. Tennessee hasn't been since winning it all in 2008.

"That should not take away the great year they've had, the great career that Brittney Griner has had," Warlick said of the Lady Bears. "It's tough, but you've got to look at the big picture and understand where you've taken women's basketball. You've gotten the interest up. You've got to keep thinking about the positives and not the last game. It's hard to do."

For both of Tuesday's participants in this regional final, it's also important not to think of the last game Sunday. They have to focus forward.

For Louisville, the Elite Eight matchup might be a little like what the U.S. men's hockey team faced in the 1980 Olympics after beating the Russians in the semifinals. They still had to defeat Finland to win the gold medal.

Perhaps Walz can show his players the movie "Miracle" to inspire them about playing well in the game after pulling off an epic upset. Before Louisville played Baylor, the Cardinals watched the ESPN 30-for-30 film "Survive and Advance" about Jim Valvano's NC State underdog team that improbably won the 1983 men's NCAA title.

"It touched everybody's heart, because we felt like them yesterday," said Louisville senior Monique Reid, whose two free throws won the game. "Coach Walz being the great leader he is, he taught us to believe in each other."

Louisville's victory, though, wasn't just about the Cardinals believing they could do it. This was also a masterful execution of a game plan that limited Baylor's biggest strengths and maximized -- to say the least -- Louisville's prowess from behind the arc (16-of-25). And it was a showcase for Schimmel, who led Louisville with 22 points.

Schimmel, a junior guard, and her sister, sophomore guard Jude, came to Louisville from Mission, Ore. Shoni was the first to be drawn to Louisville, impressed at the vigor with which the coaches recruited her.

"Our relationship -- we're a lot alike," Schimmel said of her and Walz. "That's sometimes why we bump heads, but we still understand each other."

Walz said that Schimmel has grown a lot both offensively and defensively during her time in Louisville, but that she might still push the buttons of a different coach.

"I tell her all the time, she's talented enough to play for anybody, but not anybody can coach her," Walz said. "Because she's going to do some things that will make you scratch your head.

"Like the one behind-the-back pass she threw off somebody's head in the first half [against Baylor]. But I'm not going to take her out, because I know that's part of her game."

[+] EnlargeGriner-Schimmel
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsThe 5-foot-9 Shoni Schimmel kept driving against Brittney Griner because "she's human … she's Brittney Griner, but I'm Shoni Schimmel."

What did take Schimmel out against Baylor, though, was foul trouble. She had to watch the pressure-packed last four-plus minutes from the bench. It was nerve-wracking, but she has learned to instill confidence in her teammates in all situations.

"I wouldn't say I'm feisty, but showing emotion is part of the game," Schimmel said, referring to that photo of her snarling at Griner after making an amazing basket against the 6-foot-8 shot-blocking machine. "I've always been an underdog in everything I've done. So to come here and still be the underdog, it just continues what I'm used to."

The Lady Vols realistically were expecting they might have that underdog role in Tuesday's final, just as they did last season when they met No. 1 Baylor in the Elite Eight. Instead, as the SEC regular-season champions, a No. 2 seed, and with a program that has made 18 Final Four appearances, Tennessee is now the one trying to avoid an upset.

That said, no one on the current Tennessee roster has played in a Final Four; the Lady Vols' last trip that far was behind Candace Parker in 2008, when they won Pat Summitt's eighth NCAA title. Summitt's final game as head coach was the loss to Baylor last year in the Des Moines Regional.

"We're so hungry, and I think that's helping fuel our passion to go out and be energetic and play every possession like it's our last," Tennessee senior Taber Spani said. "I think every loss we've had, the focus has been to get better from it and not to dwell on it."

Now, neither Tennessee nor Louisville will dwell on the drama of Sunday. As soon as you survive and advance, you have to think about trying to survive again.

Walz wasn't apologizing about his team's ferocity against Baylor, and he knows the Cardinals will need more of the same against Tennessee.

"We are going to have our hands full," Walz said. "We're going to have to play another great game. But why not? No one expected us to be here anyway. So what do we have to lose?"

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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