AUSTIN, Texas — Texas and Louisville already met once this season, back in a November tournament in the breezy Bahamas.
The Cardinals got the better of the Longhorns that day when both were ranked in the Top 10 and penciling in expectations for deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.
After a long season with ups and downs for both, they meet again Monday night on the Longhorns’ home court with a lot more at stake: a trip the Sweet 16. And it promises to be one of the most physical games of the tournament.
“Both teams have that aggression in them,” Texas point guard Rori Harmon said. “It’s part of their culture, that’s how we both play.”
Fourth-seeded Texas (26-9) has advanced to the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons. Fifth-seeded Louisville (24-11) has reached the Elite Eight or Final Four in each of the last four tournaments.
Louisville players say they know the first meeting between the teams, which the Cardinals won 71-63, is is now mostly meaningless. For starters, the Longhorns were missing Harmon, the Big 12 defensive player of the year and the spark plug for everything they do on both ends of the court.
Harmon missed the first five games of the season with a toe injury and Texas lost three in a row without her. Everything she does for the Longhorns was on full display in their first-round win over East Carolina when she had eight assists in the first half alone.
Texas shooting guard Shaylee Gonzales, a transfer from BYU, handled the point the first time Longhorns and Cardinals met. She’s much happier now roaming the wings for open 3-pointers
“We were all new, we had never really played with each other,” Gonzales said. “Obviously super glad that she’s back because I was super stressed to be thrown into that position.”
Louisville’s starting backcourt of Hailey Van Lith and Mykasa Robinson will be challenged by Harmon’s elite quickness, but Van Lith seemed to relish the matchup.
“Rori changes their team a little bit in the fact she has elite court vision,” Van Lith said. “Wearing her out in the backcourt, full-court defense is going to be big for us.”
Van Lith took over the fourth quarter in the first round against Drake, scoring 13 points over the final four minutes to rescue the Cardinals from their first opening-round loss since 2006.
She and Robinson will have some big bodies to contend with under the basket against Texas. The Longhorns are the biggest team in the Big 12 and throw those bodies at the basket all game.
Even with that size, Texas coach Vic Schaefer said he’ll push his post players to be ready for a fight.
“We’ve got the biggest team in the Big 12, and so even in the NCAA Tournament, we’ve got to take advantage of that,” Schaefer said. “We cannot be bullied. So I’ve challenged our kids to not let that happen. You’ve got to fight back. You just do.”
Texas is 22-0 this season when the Longhorns hold opponents under 60 points. The Longhorns held East Carolina under 10 points in the final three quarters. The Pirates didn’t score a field goal in the fourth.
Louisville forced 14 turnovers in the first half against Drake, turning them into 14 critical points in a game that went down to the final possession.
“They can turn turnovers into layups in a hurry. Both of us will put a premium on taking care of the ball,” Schaefer said.
Most of Louisville’s recent success in the NCAA Tournament has started on the Cardinals’ home court. Except for the pandemic tournament of 2021 that was played entirely in Texas, Louisville had hosted the first two rounds in the previous six seasons.
Walz is unfazed about playing on Texas’ home court Monday.
“It’s definitely a home-court advantage and that’s what they’ve earned. We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do it,” Walz said. “It should be a great environment. And that’s what you want. I’d rather come out and play in from of 8,000 than in front of 300. And our kids want that as well … I hope it’s a packed house.”
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