LEXINGTON, Ky. — The NCAA Tournament just wouldn’t feel the same for Stanford if the Cardinal was not playing in the Lexington Region.
After all, the Bluegrass State has been very good to Stanford.
The fourth-seeded Cardinal (24-10) has notched consecutive upsets of a No. 1 seed — knocking off Notre Dame twice at Rupp Arena. And they’re looking for a three-peat in Friday night’s matchup with another top seed: Louisville (34-2). Stanford is younger this time around, but has won eight of 10 entering the showdown.
“The place itself doesn’t do it. You have to have the players that do the work,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said Thursday. “But I think that when you feel good about things, it’s always good. We’re excited to be here.
“There’s a certain comfort that comes with familiarity. That won’t be enough, however. We know we have to play really well.”
The will likely mean solving a few defensive challenges.
Both teams excel on the defensive end of the floor. Stanford ranks 26th in field goal defense at 36.2 percent, just ahead of Louisville (37.2, 47th).
The Cardinals rank 27th in scoring defense at 56.9 points allowed per contest but face a Stanford squad with senior guard Brittany McPhee (16.8 points) leading a lineup with three double-digit scorers. Louisville believes matching its per-game scoring average of 77 points is the least it will need to score.
“It’s going to take 40 minutes to beat this team,” said Louisville senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen, “and we just all have to be dialed in and know that scouting report. Who’s who on that team, who we’re going to be sagging off and who we’re going to let shoot the 3.”
Louisville, seeded No. 1 for the first in program history, has been playing well. The Cardinals have won nine in a row and are playing just under 80 miles east of their campus.
At first glance, Louisville followers face a short trip to the home court of archrival Kentucky men’s team. Cardinals coach Jeff Walz isn’t so sure. Already unhappy about the scheduled 9:30 p.m. tipoff, he wondered if the start might hinder attendance, particularly with snow in the weekend forecast.
“The players are going to be fine,” Walz said. “I’m not worried about that at all. They’re not going to be tired, they’re not going to be anything. They’re going to be excited to play. It’s (just that) we’re trying to grow our game, and I think we just had a huge turnover.”
Second-seeded Baylor (33-1), winners of 30 consecutive games, will face No. 6 seed Oregon State (25-7) in the other semifinal. Friday’s winners will meet in Sunday’s championship.
Other things to look for in the Lexington Region:
DOMINANT DUO: Baylor enters the Sweet 16 with an average victory margin of 36 points in the NCAA Tournament and is outrebounding opponents by an average margin of 26.5. Six-foot-7 junior center Kalani Brown (20.1 points, 10.3 rebounds per game) and 6-4 sophomore forward Lauren Cox (15.3, 9.8) lead the Lady Bears’ potent post presence, with Cox averaging a team-high 24 points and 16.5 rebounds in the tournament.
“We make each other better,” Brown said. “I’ve picked up a few things from Lauren that she does, and it’s really helped me out. Lauren really opens the floor for me with them having to guard her on the outside, so you can’t really sag on me all that much.”
RIDING MOMENTUM: Oregon State is coming off Sunday’s 66-59 upset of third-seeded Tennessee that handed the Volunteers their first-ever NCAA home loss. The Beavers have won nine of 10 and will meet Baylor for the first time since upsetting the Bears 60-57 in the Dallas Region final two years ago, a breakthrough win OSU coach Scott Rueck believes gave players confidence to win big road challenges.
“I don’t know if Tennessee happens Sunday if that didn’t happen two years ago,” he said. “The Baylor win in Dallas also gave us the confidence that we could go into Stanford and win last year where we’d never won.”
BACK IN FORM: Louisville guard Asia Durr and Hines-Allen snapped out of mild slumps in Sunday’s second-round rout of Marquette. Durr, whose 18.5 points-per-game average leads the Cardinals, scored 19 — her highest output this postseason. Hines-Allen had 24 points with 13 rebounds for her 16th double-double this season. She needs 16 points to break 2,000 in her career.
CALL TO DUTY: Baylor’s Michelle Kahue and Darrlyn McDonough started the season as team managers but are now available as scholarship student-athletes because of dwindling numbers. The former high school teammates at Bear Creek High School in Redmond, Washington, both debuted in the Big 12 Conference tournament quarterfinal and played in the first two NCAA rounds.