Shoni Schimmel led Louisville to the regional semifinals in last season's NCAA tournament and is poised for another big performance this year.
Schimmel and the 19th-ranked Cardinals begin Saturday against Michigan State in College Park, Md.Louisville (22-9) is a No. 7 seed for the second straight year. The Cardinals upset second-seeded Xavier to reach the regional semifinals last year before losing to No. 11 seed Gonzaga.It could already be considered a successful season for Louisville after the team lost two key players early on. Senior Monique Reid, who led the team in scoring the previous two seasons, played in eight games before a knee injury ended her season. Junior Tia Gibbs suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the team's opener.Schimmel has embraced a bigger role since the two went down. After the NCAA suspended her the first two games for violating an NCAA rule, she led the team in scoring (14.3 points per game), assists (4.5) and steals (2.4)."Losing Mo and Tia ... we had to work around it," Schimmel said. "But we did pretty good I think."The sophomore has finished above her season average in scoring in seven of her last nine games. She also had six or more assists in four of the Cardinals' final five regular-season games.Her emergence as a team leader may not be surprising to those who faced her last season. As a freshman, she averaged 23.3 points during the NCAA tournament, shooting 11 of 28 from 3-point range."Having one year under your belt is great," Schimmel said. "Hopefully we'll go a little farther."While Louisville is led by backcourt mates Schimmel and Becky Burke (11.6 ppg), the Cardinals will have to contend with the size of Michigan State (20-11).The 10th-seeded Spartans, who were part of a four-way tie for second place in the Big Ten, are led by the strong inside play of senior Lykendra Johnson, who averages a team-best 8.7 rebounds and is second on Michigan State with 11.0 points per game.Johnson is one of four Big Ten women's players to reach 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 steals and 100 blocks.Fellow senior Porsche Poole leads the team with 13.5 points per game.The No. 10 seed is the lowest in Michigan State history. The Spartans reached the second round each of the last two seasons, falling as a No. 4 seed to Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2011."It's our last chance," senior guard Taylor Alton said. "I'm going to give it everything I have and fight like heck and try to get everybody where we need to be physically and mentally."The teams shared two opponents this season, each facing Villanova and Pittsburgh. The Spartans lost to both while the Cardinals defeated the Wildcats twice and the Panthers once.These programs have met only once, with the Spartans winning 82-73 in East Lansing in 1990.