Louisville, Ky. — Top-seeded Louisville and No. 8 seed Michigan know things will be significantly tougher when the schools meet in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The question is whether the quick, opportunistic Cardinals or the longer, balanced Wolverines succeed as well as they did in lopsided opening-game wins.
Michigan (22-11) rallied from an early deficit to rout No. 9 seed Kansas State, 84-54, rout on Friday. Louisville (30-3) quickly ran away from No. 16 Robert Morris, 69-34, and hopes to maintain that pace.
“We need to carry that over because (the Wolverines) have a great team with great posts and guards,” Louisville top scorer and All-America guard Asia Durr said Saturday. “That’s going to be a challenge for us, and we have to look forward to that.”
Louisville might also be able to anticipate being whole again on the floor and sideline.
Senior point guard Arica Carter practiced and awaits clearance to play after missing the past two games with an injured left knee. Cardinals coach Jeff Walz will also be back on the bench after serving a one-game NCAA suspension.
As Walz took notes and drank a mint chocolate chip milk shake at an adjacent restaurant, the Cardinals rolled with longtime associate head coach Stephanie Norman calling the shots. He was back in the arena soon after the game, though the team did well without him.
“I think if you asked my staff, they would tell me to go back for tomorrow’s game,” Walz joked. “I’m not even going to ask the players because I’m afraid I know what the answer there will be.”
If nothing else, Louisville regrouped from its Atlantic Coast Conference tournament loss to Notre Dame, which earned a No. 1 seed. The taller Cardinals outscored the Colonials 36-12 in the paint and nearly doubled them up in rebounding (47-28).
Norman reshuffled the lineup and was able to clear the bench by halftime, chemistry and depth that will be needed against a Michigan squad that outmuscled K-State.
Besides outrebounding the Wildcats 50-19, the Wolverines dominated paint scoring 52-26 and their bench 38-9. The offense isn’t shocking for a team where 6-foot-2 freshman reserve forward Naz Hillman (13.4 points) leads three averaging in double figures and six scoring at least 7.3 per contest.
“We need to make sure we are getting our post touches and make sure our posts are trying to get some second-chance opportunities,” coach Kim Barnes Arico said.
Michigan’s rebounding is just as strong and led by Hillman (7.0) and 6-5 Hallie Thome (6.0). The challenge will be using its size and athleticism to slow Louisville and cut off passing lanes.
“We are a very versatile team with a lot of height,” Thome said. “We’re going to do a few different kind of defenses to keep them guessing and switch it up on them so they never get comfortable.”
Other things to watch between Louisville and Michigan:
Louisville is pursuing its ninth appearance in the Sweet 16 and third in a row. Michigan looks to advance past the second round for the first time.
Just one more
Thome enters the game needing a point to tie Diane Dietz (2,076) as Michigan’s No. 2 career scorer. The senior faced a similar situation last month when she faced Rutgers needing a point to break 2,000. “At the end of the day, the points don’t matter,” she said. “All that matters is that we get to continue playing.”
Louisville honored seniors Durr, Carter and forward Sam Fuehring before facing North Carolina State on Feb. 28 but Sunday will mark their official home finales. “This is our last game,” Durr said, “but we don’t want it to be our last game for the whole year.”
Louisville leads 3-1 and is meeting Michigan for the first time since rallying for a 74-49 home win in the 2017 preseason WNIT. The Cardinals trailed 37-32 at halftime and held the Wolverines to 12 points afterward.
NO. 8 MICHIGAN VS. NO. 1 LOUISVILLE
Tip-off: Noon Sunday, Louisville, Ky.
Records: Michigan 22-11; Louisville 30-3