Time to bring it - VU hopes to deck Cards

Go big or go home. Dance like it's your last. If ever Vanderbilt (20-11) needed a sense of urgency, Sunday at 11:10 a.m. CT in Cincinnati, they will need it. When the Spokane Regional No. 10 seed ‘Dores take on the No. 7 seed Louisville Cardinals (20-10), they will face a Big East challenger which has toppled nationally ranked programs Kentucky, Nebraska, St John's, West Virginia and DePaul.

The Lady Cardinals have also faced and lost to ranked powers Tennessee, Connecticut, Rutgers, Xavier, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Vanderbilt battled in the SEC for a third seed in the league tournament, losing to Kentucky 69-56 in the semifinals. The loss is motivation, just as the 68-78 defeat to the No. 19 Wildcats on January 23 spurred them to a four-game winning streak before losing to No. 4 Tennessee 57-62 on February 13.

In 14 of 31 games this season, Vandy has had at least one player out due to injury. On Selection Monday, Head Coach Melanie Balcomb also announced her team had battled flu and colds both going into the SEC Tournament and after.

Although both programs are driving distance, Louisville is just 106 miles away, and the fan base may be more red and white than black and gold. As tempting as it may be for Vanderbilt to look ahead to a revenge rematch with home team and No. 2 seed Xavier after the Musketeers edged Vandy 63-62 in the second round last season, it has to take care of business Sunday first. The winner will face either Xavier (28-2) or No. 15 South Dakota State (19-13) at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday.

Balcomb, Assistant Coach Vicky Picott and sophomore guard Gabby Smith return to familiar roots in Cincinnati where Balcomb coached Xavier for seven seasons and hired Picott for a 2-year stint before both joined Vanderbilt. Smith, a standout guard at Mount Notre Dame High School, will have a personal contingent of friends and family in the stands. Vandy team alum Ashlee Bridge returned home to Cincinnati after graduating in 2010 as well.

The team returns to the Cintas Center for a second year after previously visiting Albuquerque, N.M. for NCAA rounds in 2008 and 2009. With a familiar court, the Commodores will also see two familiar faces on the opposing side. Louisville guard Tia Gibbs (8.1 ppg), a starter for the Cardinals, wore a Vandy uniform during her freshman year before transferring to her hometown program. Former Vandy center Liz Sherwood is a first-year assistant coach at Louisville, having played professional ball overseas. During two of her three years at Vandy (a UConn transfer redshirted one season), she was the SEC's Sixth Woman of the Year.

Vanderbilt is expected to start:

• Senior Jence Rhoads is a Women's Basketball Coaches Association Region 3 All American and First Team All SEC selection by league coaches. Jence has suffered sprains, strains and a broken wrist this season and yet played in 28 of 31 games. She averages 11.9 ppg.

• Senior Hannah Tuomi, known for her work ethic and post positioning, recorded four double-doubles this season and has started all 31 games. She hit a season-high 29 points against Southern Illinois, and hit double figures in both SEC Tournament games. She averages 11.5 ppg.

• All SEC Tournament sophomore post Tiffany Clarke, who recorded six double-doubles this year. Her 17 rebounds against Kentucky in the SEC semifinals tied a school record. She averages 7.7 ppg.

• Junior guard Angela Puleo, a 3-point specialist, hit a career high six of nine against Mississippi State. She averages 5.2 ppg.

• All SEC Freshman Jasmine Lister, who has started every game this season. At 5-4, this fearless point guard drives powerfully to basket and has 19 steals for the season. She averages 11.7 ppg.

First off the bench would be Stephanie Holzer, the SEC's Sixth Woman of the Year and named to the All SEC Freshman team. Averaging 11.1 ppg, the 6-4 center was named an SEC Player of the Week on February 7, the first VU freshman since 2005 to do so. She has scored in double figures in 14 of 27 games played. Freshman Christina Foggie, who missed 11 games with a sprain and two concussions, is the fifth Commodore averaging in double figures with 10.1 per game. The quick guard has 23 steals and hit a career high five 3-pointers at Duquesne.

Catch the action on ESPN2, ESPN3.com webcast or listen to a 560 AM radio broadcast.

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