Meighan Simmons on the Lady Vols' win
Isabelle Harrison talks Louisville-Baylor and Elite Eight
OKLAHOMA CITY — Cierra Burdick watched Louisville beat Baylor on Sunday night as if she were a fan.
The Tennessee forward remembered turning to teammate Isabelle Harrison and saying, “This is really happening.”
“I think we were all in shock,” Burdick said after the Cardinals 82-81 victory. “I think the country was in a state of shock.”
A day later, Burdick sat in the Lady Vols locker room reconsidering the Cardinals as an opponent in the Oklahoma City regional final. Amazement had been replaced by respect and wariness.
“You’ve got to know that Louisville pulled a huge upset,” Burdick said, “and now we’ve got to prepare for them.”
No. 2 seed Tennessee (27-7) faces No. 5 Louisville (27-8) Tuesday night (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.) at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The winner advances to the Final Four next weekend in New Orleans.
Tennessee has advanced to 18 Final Fours in its NCAA women’s basketball tournament history. The Lady Vols haven’t been back, though, since winning the 2008 national championship in Tampa, Fla.
Louisville, which is making its second Elite Eight appearance in program history, reached the 2009 Final Four in St. Louis.
UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood said that the staff has taken great care throughout the tournament to keep the players’ attention trained on the opponent at hand. Therefore, there was no need to do any Baylor deprogramming.
“We are so one-game-at-a-time oriented,” he said. “We haven’t talked one iota about Baylor. We haven’t done one Baylor thing in practice. I can honestly tell you, we haven’t worked on them one second.”
Burdick is familiar with Louisville from having played summer basketball with Cardinals guards Bria Smith and Shoni Schimmel.
“Shoni is a heck of a player and she’s kind of the heart and soul of that team,” Burdick said. “I think the entire team has an edge about them and that’s what makes them so good.”
Schimmel and guard Antonita Slaughter combined for 12 3-pointers against Baylor. The Cardinals’ 16-for-25 accuracy from long range amazed Harrison, as did the depth of their shots.
“Sixteen 3s, that’s crazy,” she said. “And they’re deep, deep 3s, making 3s that you would think someone wouldn’t even attempt to shoot.
“Everybody, including the posts, are going to have to bring some great ball pressure.”
Louisville coach Jeff Walz joked that he wasn’t sure whether his players could repeat the 3-point performance if they were the only players on the court. No matter, once was enough for Lockwood.
“They’re very capable of shooting the ball well,” he said. “They did it. The proof is in the books. We have to respect that.”
For Tennessee’s offense to keep pace, Lockwood anticipates having to navigate a multitude of defensive alignments. The Cardinals designed a special look for Baylor All-American center Brittney Griner.
“It’s like a 1-3 zone,” Walz said. “I didn’t want to get too set up in the box where we gave the wings anything they wanted. We had Antonita stay in the front if the ball was on the one side of the floor.
“The whole goal was to jab out, come back, jab out, come back.”
Although Tennessee is oriented differently, Lockwood expects Louisville to respond accordingly.
“They’re very, very good at mixing it up and keeping you off balance,” he said.
Harrison wasn’t as preoccupied with strategy as she was the proper mind-set. She expects to encounter more of the grit and determination Louisville showed in beating Baylor. But she also said, “I think we have the intensity to match that as well.”
“Whoever’s heart is bigger is going to come out with the win,” Harrison said. “I just feel very confident about this team right now.”