March 20, 2009
(AP) - Louisville has already enjoyed perhaps the finest season in its history. A lengthy run in the NCAA tournament would put a cap on it.
The third-seeded Cardinals seek to begin such a run Sunday in Baton Rouge when they face No. 14 seed Liberty in a Raleigh Region first-round matchup.
This is the fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for Louisville - one of several school records set by this season's team. The Cardinals' 29-4 record established a new mark for most wins in a season, and their 14-2 record in Big East play was also an all-time best for the program.
Were it not for unbeaten Connecticut, the Cardinals might well be the nation's top-ranked team. Two of Louisville's losses came against the No. 1 Huskies, and the Cardinals went 5-0 versus other ranked opponents.
Louisville lost by 28 points to UConn in late January, and shot just 22 percent (12-for-57) from the field en route to a 75-36 defeat in its last game - the Big East tournament championship March 10.
That loss snapped an eight-game win streak for the Cardinals, who got only nine points from star forward Angel McCoughtry. McCoughtry led Louisville with 23.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and earned All-Big East first team honors for the third consecutive season. Fellow senior Candyce Bingham ranked second on the team in both scoring (12.3) and rebounding (7.2).
McCoughtry is just as effective on the defensive side of the court, as her 4.7 steals per game are tops in the nation.
Aside from the fact its seeding is the highest in school history, the best aspect of Louisville's draw may be that it can't face UConn again until the national title game. The Raleigh Region also features top-seeded Maryland and No. 2 seed Baylor. The winner of this contest will face either No. 6 LSU or No. 11 Wisconsin-Green Bay in the second round.
A matchup with LSU could pose an unusual challenge for a higher-seeded team, as the Tigers are getting to stay at home for the first two rounds.
"We have to get by our first game, which is not going to be an easy game by no means," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "If we win that first one, we'll play LSU - if they win their first one - on their home court."
Though Liberty's seed may be low, the Flames (24-8) have plenty of postseason experience. Liberty is Big South champion for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons, and the current team features five seniors including twin sisters Megan and Moriah Frazee, the Flames' leading scorers with 20.3 and 10.1 points per game, respectively.
"We're not finished yet," Liberty coach Carey Green said last Sunday after his team beat Gardner-Webb 51-50 to win the Big South title. "I know the seniors, they want more, and they're capable of doing more."
The current crop of seniors certainly wants to accomplish more in the tournament. The Flames are 2-11 all-time in the NCAA tourney, with both wins coming in their run to the round of 16 in 2005 - the season before the current seniors first joined the team.