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Louisville coach Jeff Walz

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CINCINNATI -- Louisville sure looked glad to be playing in the NCAA tournament instead of watching it.

Freshman point guard Shoni Schimmel directed a young-but-poised offense with 19 points Sunday, and the Cardinals marked their return to the NCAA tournament by beating Vanderbilt 81-62 in a first-round game.

The Cardinals (21-12) failed to make the tournament last season after losing to Connecticut in the 2009 title game, a one-year absence that motivates a team starting Schimmel and two sophomores. The Cardinals compensate for the lack of experience with balance and speed.

For the second year in a row, the Commodores (20-12) ended their season on Xavier's home court. Last year, Vanderbilt reached the second round before losing to the Musketeers by a point. They never led in this one.

Jasmine Lister scored 13 for the Commodores.

Monique Reid scored 22, Tia Gibbs added 19 and Keshia Hines had 16 for the Cardinals, who shot 60 percent from the field and went 13 of 14 from the free-throw line.

Xavier coach Kevin McGuff watched the first half from a seat in what is usually the student section, chewing gum and sizing up the potential second-round opponent. The second-seeded Musketeers played South Dakota State in the later first-round game.

Vanderbilt was back in a very familiar place. Coach Melanie Balcomb built Xavier into a prominent program for seven years, getting the Musketeers to their first Elite Eight. She returned to the Cintas Center for the tournament last year and lost by one to her former team.

Her return trip quickly turned into a blowout by a team that could only watch a year ago.

Louisville failed to reach the tournament last season, when it hosted opening-round games at Freedom Hall. Coach Jeff Walz made his players attend the other teams' practices and see what they were missing.

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It was tough to watch Kentucky, Michigan State, Bowling Green and Liberty practice on the Cardinals' home court - Reid called it embarrassing.

It became motivation to get back.

The Cardinals averaged 10,859 fans and had a large crowd on hand for their first-round game. Louisville is only an hour-and-a-half drive from Cincinnati.

Louisville used its quickness to build a 12-6 lead, forcing three quick turnovers. Vanderbilt guard Gabby Smith, playing in her hometown, brought the Commodores back by scoring eight consecutive points. Her three-point play tied it at 16 midway through the first half.

That's when Louisville's tough man-to-man defense and balance took over. Five Cardinals scored during an 11-0 run that built the lead to 27-16. Vanderbilt never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.

Gibbs hit back-to-back 3s from the right corner during an 8-0 spurt that put Louisville up 41-26 at halftime. The sophomore played her freshman season at Vanderbilt before transferring to her hometown team, and has kept in touch with her Commodore friends.

Vanderbilt spent virtually all of halftime in the locker room, returning to the court with little more than a minute left before the game resumed. Whatever the Commodores talked about didn't translate to the court.

Schimmel took over by hitting three consecutive baskets. She got a rebound and drove the length of the court for a bank shot, then hit a pull-up jumper that made it 49-32 and gave the Commodores a sense of desperation.

Vanderbilt went with a quicker lineup and scored the next 12 points out of a timeout. Christina Foggie's steal and layup made it 49-42 with 12 minutes to go.

Louisville went inside to regain control. Hines scored eight consecutive points - four on free throws - at the start of a 13-0 run that put the Cardinals ahead 62-44 with 8:11 left.