Well, today is the day. After learning their matchup last Monday night and flying down to San Antonio to quarantine for nearly a week, Marist is ready for their first NCAA Tournament game in seven years.
The opponent: Louisville, the second seed in the Alamo quadrant of the bracket. The Cardinals certainly present a stern challenge for the 15-seeded Red Foxes. Many people thought Marist had a case for a higher seed, but the players took their task in stride, and the time for fans to complain has come and gone.
Now, head coach Brian Giorgis and company are putting the finishing touches on the game plan that they hope slows the Cardinals down. 15-seeds have never won a game in the tournament, but after the chaos on the men’s side of the bracket this weekend, both teams know that anything is possible.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of tonight’s contest:
Somewhat surprisingly, the Red Foxes have a 1-1 record against Louisville. They played at a neutral site in December 2010, with Marist coming away with a 74-68 victory thanks to 25 points and 10 rebounds from Corielle Yarde.
The Cardinals got the better of the Red Foxes at the Gulf Coast Showcase in November 2015, winning 65-53.
Last Time Out:
Marist powered past Saint Peter’s in Atlantic City on March 13. The 39-point margin of victory was the Red Foxes’ largest of the season.
Louisville fell to NC State on a buzzer-beating jumper in the ACC Tournament finals on March 7. The loss cost the Cardinals a chance at a one-seed in San Antonio.
Marist’s Keys to the Game:
The Red Foxes will also need to hold their own on the glass. Marist had the best rebounding margin in the MAAC, but even teams with relative size like Fairfield and Quinnipiac pale in comparison to the Cardinals. The Red Foxes are not completely dwarfed with senior forward Willow Duffell and freshman forward Caitlin Weimar, but Louisville will be able to consistently throw big bodies like freshman forward Olivia Cochran and junior forward Elizabeth Dixon into the paint. If Marist can hang in on the boards, they could have a shot.
The biggest key to upsetting a better team is controlling the pace. Marist holds its opponents to 50 points per game, the second-best scoring defense in the nation (UCF leads with 49.9 points allowed per game). Louisville’s prolific offense averages nearly 79 points per game, making them one of the top-15 scoring offenses in the country. We see these clashes of style all the time in March. The team that controls the pace usually wins the game.
This could benefit the Red Foxes, who are patient on offense and make opposing teams work hard to find scoring. If Marist slows the game down and reduces Louisville’s possessions, they have a chance to stay in this game.
Louisville’s Keys to the Game:
If the Cardinals show up and play to their full potential, only a few teams in the country can beat them. Marist is not on that list. If Louisville can start fast coming off a two-week break, then they should be able to dash the Red Foxes’ hopes by the end of the first half.
The Cardinals typically get strong play from their guards. Senior Dana Evans, redshirt junior Kianna Smith, and freshman Hailey Van Lith combine to average over 40 points per game. They each shoot above 35 percent from three-point range and have the ability to beat Marist’s pack-line defense from the perimeter. Louisville shoots a shade over 35 percent from three as a team. If they can knock down their deep looks, it should be a long night for the Red Foxes.
Red Fox to Watch:
I’ll give it to Duffell for tonight. She’s playing the basketball of her career, knowing that every game could be her last. She’s scored in double-figures in her last nine games and notched double-doubles in four of them. There’s no knowing how she will stack up against Louisville’s post players, but she will definitely be a crucial part of a potential upset.
Bonus pick: Sophomore guard Trinasia Kennedy. How well can she defend Evans?
Cardinal to Watch:
Evans is the pick here. It’s not often that Marist gets to play against an All-American caliber player. Evans is that, and then some. She averages 20 points per game, leads her team in assists, and shoots over 90 percent from the foul line. From what I’ve seen of Louisville, she’s a joy to watch. She can be a blur on the court and will never shy away from the moment. She is one of those players that you watch even when she does not have the ball. The Red Foxes will try to make someone else beat them. It won’t be very easy.
I think Marist can keep it close for a half, but the Cardinals are just too much. Evans, Van Lith, and company will eventually pull away for a double-digit win. Duffell and senior guard Allie Best will play their final game in red and white.
Louisville 65, Marist 50
Edited by Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Mike Cahill