The Louisville Cardinals showed off just how potent they can be when Shoni Schimmel knocks down shots.
Schimmel scored 20 points, and fifth-seeded Louisville finished with 18 steals Sunday in beating Middle Tennessee 74-49 for its fifth straight opening-round win in the NCAA tournament under coach Jeff Walz.
"She was just knocking down big shots," Louisville senior forward Monique Reid said. "If she'll continue to do that, we'll go a long way in the tournament."
Schimmel went just 1 of 5 beyond the arc, but the junior guard finished 9 for 15 overall. She also grabbed four rebounds with three steals in 36 minutes.
"Being in the NCAA tournament, it's great to play a big game not only by myself but with my teammates," Schimmel said. "And that's the main thing that's great about it is that our whole team played great."
The Cardinals (25-8) will play No. 4 seed Purdue, a 77-43 winner over Liberty, on Tuesday night in the second round of the Oklahoma City Regional.
Middle Tennessee (25-8) had won seven in a row. The Blue Raiders have dropped six straight first-round NCAA games. Kortni Jones led Middle Tennessee with 14 points, and Icelyn Elie added 13. Ebony Rowe had 12 points and 12 rebounds for her 21st double-double.
"We don't just have a team at Middle Tennessee, we've got a program," coach Rick Insell said. "If you look, you'll see the last 10 out of the last 11 years we've been in the NCAA tournament. What we've got to do is take it one more step. That's what we're in the process of building right now."
Reid finished with 15 points for Louisville. Bria Smith had 10 points and 10 rebounds with six assists, while Jude Schimmel added 11 points.
The Cardinals now are 4-1 all-time against Middle Tennessee, and jumped on the Blue Raiders from the start in this one.
Louisville outshot Middle Tennessee, hitting 53.8 percent (30 of 63) compared to 34.6 percent (18 of 52). The Cardinals also had 18 steals while forcing 24 turnovers, which they turned into 31 points. The Blue Raiders managed to stay close for a while by hitting eight of their first 17 3-point attempts before missing their last eight beyond the arc.
"When you can force a team of their caliber to turn the ball over 24 times, you know you're doing something right because they're a very solid basketball team," Walz said.
Middle Tennessee outrebounded the Cardinals 42-36 — not that it mattered with Louisville having a 50-12 scoring edge in the paint.
This was the first time the Cardinals have gotten to play on their home floor in the NCAA tournament, and they sure needed their fans when Middle Tennessee threatened to take the lead in the second half.
"It was fantastic to have the excitement in the arena that we had," Walz said of the 5,977 who turned out. "Not only from our side, but I thought Middle's crowd was very well represented. And they got loud on several occasions."
The Blue Raiders opened with Elie hitting her fourth 3-pointer followed by a 3 from Jones. Reid finally scored Louisville's first bucket of the half on a putback with 15:42 remaining. The teams swapped buckets, with Middle Tennessee closing to 42-40 on a 3-pointer from Laken Leonard from the left corner with 10:23 to go.
At one point, sophomore forward Sara Hammond motioned to the Louisville fans to get loud before inbounding the ball.
She didn't have to worry.
Louisville scored 10 straight points over the next 73 seconds. Shoni Schimmel started the scoring with a three-point play, and then Smith drove for a layup. Schimmel added a bucket on an assist from Smith before her sister, Jude, hit Louisville's second 3 of the game with 8:47 to go for a 52-42 advantage. The Cardinals just padded the lead from there, going up by as many as 25 points late.
Insell credited Schimmel with taking over in that stretch.
"When we cut it one, they were not going to put it anyone else's hands but hers. She was going to make a play or knock down a shot. She did that," Insell said. "That's what your marquee player is supposed to do. That's why we go to Ebony, why we have the ball in Kortni's hands."