Can the Cal women accomplish what the Wichita State men could not do, and advance past Louisville into the championship game of the Final Four?
Here’s our preview package of today’s semifinal matchup in New Orleans:
Click here for staff writer Stephanie Hammon’s story on the maturation of Cal sophomore guard Brittany Boyd.
Here is Hammon’s Final Four notebook, including Louisville’s plans for defending Cal star Layshia Clarendon.
And if you haven’t read it, check out Elliott Almond’s profile on Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb.
From the Louisville Courier-Journal, here’s a story on Cardinals’ star Shoni Schimmel, who has averaged 20 points in nine career postseason games and had the memorable stare-down of 6-foot-8 Baylor star Brittney Griner.
Courtesy of ESPN, here’s an analysis of today’s matchup by the network’s four primary women’s basketball experts: Doris Burke, Kara Lawson, Rebecca Lobo and Carolyn Peck:
On No. 2 seed California
Burke: Lindsay Gottlieb is one of the exciting young coaches in women’s college basketball. She is a passionate, dynamic and a positive force with her team. The Bears have a terrific backcourt with Brittany Boyd and Layshia Clarendon, and a relentless commitment to the offensive glass. The team relies on its ability to get into the open floor and score off their defense. In the half court, Clarendon has to deliver for this team to have a chance to win.
Lawson: Cal is a loose and confident group. Their defense and rebounding carry the day and Layshia Clarendon is a very difficult player to guard, fantastic in the mid-range game.
Lobo: The Golden Bears have found a way to win the close games during this tournament — beating their second-round and regional final opponents in overtime. They want to push tempo and have an athletic team that is built to run. Layshia Clarendon is a terrific break-down guard who can also score from three and their inside game is anchored by Gennifer Brandon, who averages 11 rebounds. Cal hits the glass hard and gets second opportunities as a result. They have struggled scoring at times this season against zone defenses and shoot only 61 percent from the free-throw line. I’m eager to see how they handle playing against Louisville’s different defensive schemes.
Peck: Lindsay Gottlieb has to be on cloud nine right now. Cal is dangerous; if the score is kept close, they are always in the position to win. The team is fast and physical, plus they are a defensive team. Layshia Clarendon is a rising star who makes clutch plays. Louisville has to be concerned about rebounding and defending Cal in the paint.
Note: Lawson and Peck on Sunday morning’s “SportsCenter” both predicted Louisville will beat Cal.
On No. 5 seed Louisville
Burke: This Cinderella is not running home at the stroke of midnight. As you watched the Cardinals progress through prohibitive favorite Baylor and then dispatch mighty Tennessee, the one attribute you have to assign this team is fearlessness. Jeff Walz might be a bit surprised at their advancement to the Final Four – the need to purchase an extra shirt for the regional final gives evidence to that – but this man can coach. He institutes game plans and has both the willingness and capability to change their attack based on their opponent. It will not shock me if he has the Cardinals in the championship game for the second time in his career.
Lawson: Changing defenses makes Louisville dangerous, along with activity and pressure that help to mask their lack of interior size. They are playing very confident on the offensive end and Shoni Schimmel’s confidence makes them hard to beat.
Lobo: Louisville is carrying the most momentum into the Final Four after pulling off the biggest upset in the history of the women’s tournament by beating Baylor and following that up with another terrific offensive performance against the team with the longest tournament tradition in Tennessee.
The Cardinals have fully embraced the underdog role and are playing with a tremendous amount of confidence in themselves, one another and their coach. Jeff Walz isn’t afraid to try a variety of defensive schemes and his last two opponents have been confused by them. Shoni Schimmel is a fearless guard with deep range and Antonita Slaughter is the X-Factor — a streaky shooter who can drain 3s and mix it up inside.
Louisville will defensively limit what their opponent wants to do and when they are hot on the offensive end too, they can beat anyone.
Peck: They don’t have superstar in Angel McCoughtry, which is a big difference from when they were in the Final Four last time. Shoni Schimmel is a rising star but she is not Angel. This has to be a total team effort. They have five players, who can shoot the 3, they can defend any position on the floor and they don’t back down from anyone. Jeff Walz has the team prepared physically and mentally, and they believe. That is half the battle to get to the Final Four. They are a dangerous team and proved they can pull off the upset.