Cards hope to stop Sooners in Final Four

Louisville (33-4) will make its first appearance in the women's basketball Final Four Sunday against Oklahoma (32-4). The Cardinals are the first newcomer to crash the Final Four since 2005, when Michigan State and Baylor advanced to the championship in their first attempt.

Louisville, led by second-year head coach Jeff Walz, hopes to follow the trail blazed by the Spartans and Bears five years ago. The Cardinals, the No. 3 seed in the Raleigh region, advanced to St. Louis by beating No. 2 Baylor in the regional semifinals and No. 1 Maryland in the finals last weekend.

"This is our time," Angel McCoughtry said. "Truly this is our season, we all believed it. We've been saying since last year we were going to get to St. Louis. Everybody said it, and now we're here."

"It's an amazing feeling to be a part of this because, I think, no one ever thought that this program could rise to this point," Candyce Bingham said. "And we've proven that we could. So it's an amazing feeling."

It's been a whirlwind for Louisville since their win over the Terps on Monday. A newcomer to the Final Four, the Cardinals were sent off in style for their game against the Sooners by a huge downtown pep rally on Wednesday.

Now, Oklahoma awaits the 33-4 Cardinals. In the Sooners, Louisville will have to figure out a way to stop the extremely talented Paris twins – Courtney and Ashley. Courtney Paris, Oklahoma's All-American frontcourt standout, is the only player nationally with more than 2,500 points and 2,000 rebounds.

"They're great players," said Bingham. "Courtney Paris, four-time All-American. That in itself speaks for itself. But they're great rebounders, great players, and we're going to have to come out and make sure we're boxing them out and just follow the game plan."

The Paris twins aren't the only Sooners that worry Walz heading into Sunday's semifinal.

Louisville hopes to slow down Oklahoma
All-American Courtney Paris.

"There's a bunch of things that concern me (about Oklahoma)," Walz said. "I mean, the way Danielle Robinson has been playing at the point. She's been outstanding. Whitney Hand has been shooting the ball lights out. Then you've got the Paris sisters inside.

"They've just got a very good team. Sherri (Coale's done a great job of putting players around the twins. And it's going to be a challenge for us. We're going to have to come out here tomorrow night and defend well and rebound."

Rebounding appears one of the major keys for the Cardinals. If Louisville hopes to advance to the championship game, they'll have to keep Courtney Paris off the offensive glass.

"If you look at Courtney Paris's stats, I think she's made 219 shots and she's got 203 offensive boards," Walz said. "It's an unbelievable stat when you look at it. For a kid to rebound the ball as well as she does at the offensive end we've got to make sure we've got a body on her and sacrificing someone so she can't get offensive boards."

Walz is also hoping his star, McCoughtry, breaks out of a shooting slump that slowed her in the regional.

"I don't think Angel had a superb four games (in the NCAA tournament)," said Walz. "Now, she's played solid. She'll get her 23 points. She gets her 12, 13 boards, three or four steals. But she hasn't had the games that we're used to seeing."

While McCoughtry didn't shoot the ball as well as she's capable in the regional, her teammates helped pick up the slack. Dez Byrd came through with a solid effort against Maryland and Candyce Bingham was her steady self. Louisville also got solid performances from freshmen Becky Burke and Monique Reid and sophomore center Keisha Hines.

"It's exciting for our staff to see the rest of our young kids stepping up the way Monique Reid played in our regional games, the way Becky Burke has been playing," said Walz. "We've really relied on everyone on this team.

"I've told them, we need two more. And I don't care which two because they all get a chance throughout the game. Keshia Hines has been playing well and Monique Reid and Becky Burke have been playing solid for us. Actually we've been getting three of them to show up. If we can continue to do that, plus we've got to get some minutes from Gwen (Rucker), we'll have a chance to compete."

The Cardinals certainly aren't the favorites in the favorite in their first trip to the Final Four. That role is being played by undefeated and No. 1 UConn. So Louisville shouldn't be feeling any pressure. The Cardinals are loose and relaxed heading into their semifinal matchup against the Sooners, so says All-American forward McCoughtry.

"I'm very relaxed right now," she said. "This is a business trip; we're not here for a lot of fun. So we're ready to play."

The Huskies are such an overwhelming favorite that the perception in St. Louis is that Louisville and Oklahoma are playing for second place. UConn, which plays Stanford - the team that last defeated the Huskies in last year's national semifinal - on Sunday, has beaten both the Cardinals – twice – and Sooners this season.

"We better get past this round first," McCoughtry said. "We're focusing on Oklahoma. We need to do that and we'll see what we've got in the next round once we get past Oklahoma."

Walz joked that UConn could be overconfident against Louisville in the finals provided both teams win their semifinal games tomorrow.

"I think we did a great job," Walz said. "I mean, because obviously if we play them (UConn) they're way overconfident. When you lose by 38 and 28 - we planned that. So, I mean, it was good coaching on my part.

"We're going to have to come out here tomorrow night and beat a very good Oklahoma team to even have a chance to play the next game. And if we can come out here and do that then we'll worry about that tomorrow night after the game. And then, hey, you never know what can happen. If we can get to that game and if UConn can get to that game, then we'll throw it up on Tuesday night and see what happens."

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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