Lady Vols, Cardinals to clash in second round

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- One of the most compelling NCAA tournament second-round games in recent memory will operate on the same principle as the joke about the amount of speed a person needs to survive in the wild against a bear.

Louisville and Tennessee don't need to have it all figured out Monday night.

One of them just needs to have it more figured out than the other.

In first-round wins that offered competition but little late drama -- No. 4 Louisville beat No. 13 Chattanooga 82-62 and No. 5 Tennessee beat No. 12 Dayton 66-57 -- we didn't see the best from teams with endless potential but almost as many question marks.

And we were also reminded why they will have to play each other for a place in the Sweet 16.

Expectations before the season began would have pegged this as the kind of game that would take place in the tournament's second week, not for entry to it. Louisville was ranked fifth in the Associated Press Top 25 in the preseason. The teams ranked ahead of the Cardinals then are the No. 1 seeds now. Tennessee was ranked 13th in the preseason. Only two teams ranked ahead of the Lady Vols then are playing on the road this week -- and one of those, second-seeded Stanford, only because of scheduling conflicts.

Uncertainty replaced optimism when Louisville was beaten soundly by South Carolina early in the season, beaten at home by Maryland and beat just one team (Miami) that landed on the top four seed lines in the NCAA tournament. Tennessee won plenty of big games, as many as any team this side of Connecticut, but it also lost puzzlers to the likes of Alabama, Ole Miss and Penn State.

That's the baggage both teams brought to the tournament -- despite positive results and positive self-reviews.

"I loved our focus," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said after the win against Dayton. "I loved our energy. And I loved our resilience. So I can't say enough about this team and what they did tonight."

Even though that included first taking and then surrendering a 14-point lead. Ahead 18-4 in the first quarter, Tennessee not only found itself all square at halftime but trailing on three occasions in the third quarter.

Win the first quarter 20-9. Lose the second quarter 20-9. A season summed up in 20 minutes.

Yet Diamond DeShields, while conceding the team has a tendency to make life difficult for itself, suggested it best to tip the cap to Dayton for a good run. It admittedly is not bad advice for evaluating a small sample size. Warlick, too, insisted the whole trumped the holes.

"We didn't do what we needed to do as far as switching and attacking the ball," she said. "But overall really, really pleased with people stepping up and staying consistent."

No one was more consistent than DeShields, whose 24 points were split equally before and after halftime (despite a brief absence from the court in the fourth quarter for what she said only was "a little situation").

Warlick also singled out Schaquilla Nunn, the fifth-year senior transfer from one mid-major, Winthrop, who tormented another with 14 points and 15 rebounds, and Jordan Reynolds, the point guard for a team that committed just nine turnovers. And with Jaime Nared in foul trouble most of the game, the Lady Vols would have been in trouble had it not been a collective effort to reclaim a double-digit lead.

"They're kids that work hard," Warlick said. "But we let things get in the way sometimes during the game. All in all, I will say this: These last two weeks they have been the most focused I've seen them pretty much all year. They have been tuned in, focused and asking a lot of questions -- meaningful questions."

Like DeShields, Louisville's Asia Durr showed off a different skill level than anyone else on the court in her game against Chattanooga, which might have played the toughest mid-major schedule in the country. She led the Cardinals with 27 points, capped by a four-point play when she was fouled on a 3-pointer right in front of a Louisville bench happy to celebrate the moment.

But the Cardinals remain a decidedly youthful team, and need Durr, Myisha Hines-Allen and Mariya Moore to do their share every game, just as Tennessee does with DeShields, Russell and Nared. Yet part of what made Saturday comfortable, at least by the fourth quarter, was freshman Jazmine Jones.

Her 14 points off the bench came in an energized performance that helped put Chattanooga on the back foot after a decent start. The Lady Mocs were well coached and experienced, but they didn't have a constant as athletic as Jones, let alone an X factor.

Jones said she just did what Louisville coach Jeff Walz told her to do all the time. But she averaged barely four points in 15 minutes.

"He always asks me to go hard," Jones said. "Be a player. Don't be a robot. That's what I did tonight. Him telling me that every day, it gets stuck in my head so I can't lose it. So if I actually listen to him like I did tonight, good things happen."

And that's the battle. Not just with Jones, but with Kylee Shook, the 6-foot-4 freshman and low-post scoring option whose imposing wingspan the Cardinals like to station at the top of their trapping pressure. And Ciera Johnson, another 6-4 freshman who didn't score and had one rebound in 10 minutes. Jones was just the star pupil.

"She's young, she has a lot to learn still," said Walz, whose team lost to DePaul at home in the second round last year. "But she's going to continue to get better. For us to continue to move on, we're going to have to have Jaz, Kylee, Ciera or Sam Fuehring, players come off the bench and give us some numbers. That's what happened tonight."

"We let things get in the way sometimes during the game. All in all, I will say this: These last two weeks they have been the most focused I've seen them pretty much all year." Tennessee coach Holly Warlick

So how much have these teams really figured out?

"At times, the last couple of years, we haven't been at our best," Warlick said when asked about the expectations that come with Tennessee's history. "But it seems like at tournament time, these kids rise. They rise up and they accept the challenge. And it is a culture. It's what they come to Tennessee for is to play in NCAA tournaments and compete for championships."

She paused and found a punch line.

"If I could just get them to act like the tournament is all year round, I'd be ..."

She didn't finish the thought. We'll see which team can Monday night.