The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (27-6) vs Louisville Cardinals (33-4)
The Location: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
The Time: 7 pm EST
It feels like forever ago since the Lady Terps have played in a game as important as the one against Louisville (even though it’s only been two short years). With one half of the Final Four already set, it’s up to Maryland and Louisville to piece together the remainder in their Elite Eight showdown. The Terps take on Louisville coming off a major upset of #1 seeded Tennessee, where their archetypal leader, Alyssa Thomas, willed them to victory with 33 points.
The Terps won’t have it any easier when they take on Louisville, however. The Cardinals get home court advantage, for one, against the Terps as they play at the Yum! Center. That might seem like an oddity during the NCAA tournament, but Maryland has had the same treatment during some tournament games (2008 stands out in particular). Louisville and Maryland are far from strangers, too, as they both played one another in the Elite Eight back in ’08, where the Cardinals won. Louisville got here by trouncing LSU in front of 11,000 fans 73-47.
Both teams are playing some great basketball right now, so this could well be the best game of the tournament.
1.) Home court advantage will be hard to overcome
Let’s face it: Maryland got the short end of the stick on this deal. That’s not saying it’s unfair, because the fact that Louisville gets to play their games at home is just a natural occurrence of how women’s games are set up. Sometimes you get the home court advantage, and sometimes it gets you. This might be the case against the Cardinals, who have typically had some pretty strong showings this tournament.
Worse still, the Cards have only lost one game at home this season, and they’ve been unbeatable against anyone not named Connecticut or Kentucky (three losses against UConn, one against UK). That doesn’t bode well for the Terps, who aren’t quite as effective on the road as they are at home, but if anyone can prepare the team for a loud environment, it’s a coach whose been there before in Brenda Frese.
2.) Maryland is way taller, and that counts
The Terps have seven players that are listed at 6-feet or taller, whereas Louisville lacks that same height. The Terps aren’t going to tower over the Cards, but they’re decidedly bigger, and if there’s one way to beat any team it’s by crashing the boards. Maryland has been great at that lately, having been last outrebounded against Duke in a regular season loss.
Maryland can stay in the game by capitalizing on second-chance point opportunities with Alyssa Thomas, who has been exceptional at that lately.
3.) Obi Wan vs Anakin
That is to say, Brenda Frese V. her old assistant coach, Jeff Walz. The Louisville head coach may have left seven years ago, but if anyone knows Maryland basketball, it’s him. Now Walz is a highly respected coach in his own right, having played for three national championships despite having the big trophy elude him.
Frese, however, has that national championship under her belt, and while she is certainly complimentary of Walz, it’ll be interesting to see this chess match play out as she tries to outsmart him. Frese has proven herself time and again, so a road match against a former assistant is just another barrier to the Final Four.
It’s a road game, but Maryland has proven themselves against superior opponents and the Terps have the best player on the court. Alyssa Thomas has been virtually unstoppable lately, so I expect her to topple over an undersized Cards team.