Having plundered the Western Athletic Conference, the Idaho Vandals women’s basketball team earned a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament only to be paired against another giant.
The 28-5 Vandals were given a No. 14 seed and will play at 2:30 p.m. today against a third-seeded Louisville team that coach Jon Newlee said is clearly one of the top squads in the country. The first-round matchup follows last year when Idaho opened against eventual champion Connecticut.
“Where do I start,” Newlee said, drawing laughter at his Iowa City news conference. “Looking at their record, 30-4, they lost three times to UConn. We found out firsthand what UConn is like ourselves last year.”
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said he isn’t looking past a Vandals team that returns all of the players who went to the NCAA tournament last year.
“They’re, first off, a group of young ladies that play extremely hard,” Walz said of Idaho. “We’re going to have our hands full. There’s no question about it.”
Idaho is led by junior guard Stacey Barr, who averages 18.7 points and 7.8 rebounds a game for the Vandals, who haven’t lost in more than a month.
Alyssa Charlston, a 6-foot-1 senior post who averages 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, said the Vandals are excited to have another shot on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“Our coaches do a good job of keeping us focused and ready to go at all times,” Charlston said. “We expect ourselves to play at a high level every time we step on the court.”
Idaho brings its eight-game winning streak up against a fourth-ranked Louisville team that’s only lost to UConn and then-No. 7 Kentucky.
The Cardinals are led by senior guard Shoni Schimmel, who averages 17 points and 4.3 rebounds a game on a roster full of scorers.
“Defensively we’re really going to have to play smart,” Newlee said. “I think we’re going to have to take care of the basketball because I know they’re going to come with a variety of defenses and traps, things that Jeff (Walz) likes to do.”
Walz, who lost to UConn in the championship game last year, said he will focus his defense on Idaho’s outside shooters.
“They shoot the three extremely well. You have two players on their team that have taken over 250 threes,” he said.
“We’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game at the defensive end of the floor, for sure.”
Newlee, who said he couldn’t believe how Louisville got such a low seed, still called the opportunity huge for his program.
“We know the challenges ahead of us,” Newlee said. “We feel like we are ready to go. We’re excited to be here and get after Louisville.”