SPOKANE - Louisville coach Jeff Walz said it's easy to explain how the Cardinals lured standout freshman point guard Shoni Schimmel 2,000 miles east from Portland.
“Cash,” Walz deadpanned. “Lots of cash.”
It doesn’t take long to see how the colorful Walz connected with the flashy Schimmel, who starred at Hermiston and Franklin (Portland) high schools after growing up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeastern Oregon.
Schimmel will be matched up against sensational Gonzaga point guard Courtney Vandersloot when the Cardinals and Bulldogs square off tonight in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.
A sellout crowd of about 11,000 could be on hand to watch the nationally televised contest at the Spokane Arena (ESPN, 6 p.m.). Second-ranked Stanford (31-2) and No. 14 North Carolina (28-8) follow the 20th-ranked Bulldogs (30-4) and unranked Cardinals (22-12).
Schimmel, whose first name is pronounced SHOW-nee, describes Vandersloot’s court vision as “pretty awesome.” That seems like an apt description for the overall game of Schimmel, who averages 15 points, five assists, two steals and (blush) four turnovers per game.
“She’s a fantastic player,” Walz said. “She’s just a great kid who loves to play basketball.
“I tell people all the time, ‘You’ve got basketball players and kids who play basketball.’
“She’s a basketball player. I don’t have to encourage her to get in the gym to work on her game.”
Schimmel’s no-look and behind-the-back passes have been known to land in the seats – or an unsuspecting teammate’s face.
“She’ll make passes at times that make you scratch your head,” Walz said. “At the same time, she’ll come up with a pass that no one else can make or see.”
Vandersloot, the All-America candidate out of Kentwood High School, averages 19 points, 10 assists, three steals and three turnovers. Vandersloot said she was impressed when Schimmel (who showed little interest in Gonzaga’s brief recruiting overtures) scored a season-high 33 points Tuesday in an 85-75 win over fifth-ranked Xavier of Cincinnati.
“Her ability to score with confidence is going to carry her a long way,” Vandersloot said.
The Bulldogs are riding a 20-game win streak as they bid for their first Elite Eight appearance. The Cardinals love to run and gun like Gonzaga, and Walz predicts a winning score “in the 80s.”
Media speculation has linked Gonzaga’s Kelly Graves with the coaching vacancy at Washington. Asked if he’s been asked to interview with the Huskies, Graves said, “I can’t say.” Graves, whose wife is a Spokane native, said he’ll “think about” the UW job after the season. ... Washington State is host of the three games in the Spokane Arena (today’s winners play Monday). Stanford is seeded first, North Carolina fifth, Louisville seventh and Gonzaga 11th in the 16-team Spokane Region. ... Walz said Gonzaga would be a “four or five seed” if not for weak competition in the West Coast Conference. ...
The vast majority of fans will be supporting Gonzaga, but the Cardinals are accustomed to large crowds. Louisville twice drew more than 22,000 at home this season and averaged 10,859. ... Forward Monique Reid, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, provides an effective inside complement to Schimmel. Reid leads the Cardinals, who tied for fifth in the 16-team Big East Conference, with 15.9 points and 6.2 rebounds. ... Vandersloot needs five assists to break the Division I single-season record of 355. She leads the nation with a 10.3 average; the record is 11.8. ... Louisville lost to Connecticut in the national title game two years ago, then suffered through a 14-18 season last year.
NCAA WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT ROUND OF 16
Today at Dayton, Ohio
Tennessee (33-2) vs. Ohio State (24-9), 9 a.m., ESPN
Oklahoma (23-11) vs. Notre Dame (28-7), approx., 11 a.m., ESPN
Today at Spokane
Gonzaga (30-4) vs. Louisville (22-12), 6 p.m., ESPN
Stanford (31-2) vs. North Carolina (27-8), approximately 8:30 p.m., ESPN2
Sunday at Philadelphia
UConn (34-1) vs. Georgetown (24-10), 9 a.m., ESPN
DePaul (29-6) vs. Duke (31-3), approx., 11:30 a.m., ESPN2
Sunday at Dallas
Georgia (23-10) vs. Texas A&M (29-5), 1:30 p.m., ESPN2
Baylor (33-2) vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay (34-1), approximately 4 p.m., ESPN2