Cardinals' defense could be too much for USC

Updated: March 18, 2005, 7:45 AM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

Louisville, which is competing in its first NCAA Tournament in four years, hasn't won a game in the Big Dance since 1995.

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For more in-depth information on each squad, be sure to check out Beth Mowins' team-by-team breakdowns:
  • Louisville
  • Southern California
  • That streak could come to an end Saturday.

    The ninth-seeded Cardinals take on No. 8 seed Southern California (ESPN, noon ET) in what could be the best first-round game in the Kansas City Regional.

    Cardinals coach Tom Collen has won nearly 80 percent of his career games, which ranks third in the nation in winning percentage among active coaches. He has done a great job since landing in Louisville just two years ago, and deserves a lot of credit for getting the Cardinals -- one of four Conference USA squads in the 64-team field -- back to the tournament for the first time since 1997.

    But Collen also gets kudos for originality. He's the only coach I know of who has a defensive coordinator, and assistant Tim Eatman makes it more than a worthwhile position. The Cardinals play a smothering defense that allows just 58.6 points and holds foes to 37 percent accuracy from the field. Louisville, which typically plays a man defense but also mixes in a zone, changes up its defensive schemes quite a bit and is always very prepared defensively. That's a credit to Eatman's very detailed practices.

    Jazz Covington has emerged as Louisville's star. She can hit from 17 feet and in, led C-USA in scoring (19.9 ppg) and ranked second with 57.8 percent accuracy from the field. The 6-foot-3 sophomore center also led Louisville on the boards, averaging 8.4 rebounds, and notched 10 double-doubles. She already has topped the 1,000-point plateau in her brief college career.

    The Cardinals are not traditionally a strong 3-point shooting team -- just 30 percent from downtown -- but they're dangerously streaky. Junior Jessica Huggins, for example, shoots just 34 percent from 3-point range on the season (team-high 35 treys), but doubled her accuracy to 67 percent (6-for-9) in three C-USA tournament games.

    Balance is a plus at Louisville, which has five players averaging at least 7.2 points.

    Southern California, on the other hand, is extremely balanced. Nine players average at least 16.1 points, and seven average at least 6.9 points. In their last eight games, six different players led the team in scoring, and that sort of balance is tough for the opponent to try and shut down. On the season, freshman Brynn Cameron, one of 10 underclassmen on the 13-player roster (the two seniors each average about seven points), leads the way as the team's only player in double-digits (10.2).

    The Women of Troy are making their first NCAA appearance since 1997, and first-year coach Mark Trakh (formerly of Pepperdine) already has done a great job revitalizing a program that used to be in the top tier of women's teams. USC's 19 wins this season are the most since the '97 team won 20 games.

    Still, while USC has a slight advantage over Louisville on the boards (plus-2), the Women of Troy shoot just 38.4 percent from the field and are young. And Louisville's lock-down defense gives the Cardinals the advantage.

    Nancy Lieberman

    Basketball analyst / Writer
    Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.