BY MIKE RILEY
Dominating play for the last six minutes of the first half made the difference as No. 5 seed Louisville advanced to regional play with a 76-63 victory over No. 4 seed Purdue in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament on Tuesday at the KFC Yum! Center.
The Cardinals will now travel to Oklahoma City where they will face top-ranked Baylor on Sunday in regional play. Baylor advanced on Tuesday with an 85-47 victory over Florida State.
“Right now, we’re going to enjoy this one,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz. “Tonight, we had a game plan and we executed it to perfection. We’re somewhat familiar with Baylor. They have a post player you may have heard of (6-foot-8 Brittany Griner). But right now we’re going to enjoy this one.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Shoni Schimmel, who had not scored up to that point allowed Louisville (26-8) to pull away from an 18-16 advantage to a 38-23 halftime lead. Purdue (25-9) made some runs in the second half, but never got closer than 10 points.
“At the end of the first half, that was a total team effort on defense, which contributed to our offense and that got them rattled,” said Cardinals’ sophomore center Sara Hammond, who led Louisville with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Hammond also commented on the physical play in the game. Physical at times was a mild description as players from both teams were constantly picking themselves off the floor.
“Purdue had a great game plan. But playing in the Big East, teams like UConn will prepare you,” Hammond said. “Give them credit. We got roughed up a bit, but we came away with the ‘W.’
“I’m as proud of this team as our team that played for the national championship in ‘09,” said Walz. “We’ve had a lot of injuries but have found every way to continue to play. We’ve had players step up and accept more responsibility.”
Louisville also did an exceptional job on the Boilermakers two leading scorers, Courtney Moses and K.K. Houser. Houser finished with 10 points, while Moses had seven. But at halftime, they were a combined 1-of-10 from the field with seven turnovers.
Sam Ostarello led Purdue with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but Walz knew what he was up against.
“It was a roll of the dice,” Walz said. “Could she [Ostarello] put up 25 and beat us? With 16 and 12, she almost did. But we knew who we had to stop.”
Antonita Slaughter added 16 points for Louisville, 14 of those before halftime. Schimmel finished with 14 and the Cardinals also got a strong performance from sophomore Jude Schimmel, Shoni’s sister, who finished with seven points, six assists and eight steals.
Only 10 fouls were called in the first half with no Louisville player picking up more than one. By game’s end, Louisville was whistled for 13 fouls and Purdue had 16. But Walz encouraged his players to take advantage of it.
“I thought the officiating was good,” he said. “They let you play. I told the team that you can body up on them, just keep your hands off.”
Walz also had praise for the crowd. Purdue, being the higher seed was the designated home team. But with Louisville coming up with a special $5 ticket promotion, the announced crowd of 9,236, which all but filled the lower arena, was mostly Cardinal red.
“Wow,” Walz said. “We went from 6,000 on Sunday to 9,000 tonight and it was as loud as we’ve ever been a part of. The crowd was fantastic.”
Purdue coach Sharon Versyp also lauded the crowd at the KFC Yum! Center.
“It was a great atmosphere for women’s basketball,” Versyp said. “We played with them for about 34 minutes, but late in the first half they took over. Then it seemed like every time in the second half that we would make a run, they would hit a big shot.”