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Louisville is better since early loss at Xavier

Details of that November game have gotten blurred in players' minds — so much has happened since then. One thing that no one's forgotten: Amber Harris can make all the difference.

Harris scored 28 points and rescued Xavier from a first-half deficit on Nov. 23 at the Cintas Center, setting up a 71-59 win over a young Louisville team still finding its way. Harris' dominant performance — she also had 18 rebounds — is still vivid for the Cardinals.

"You've got to figure out what are you going to do," coach Jeff Walz said on Monday. "Unfortunately, I watched Amber Harris get (almost) 30 and 18 on us. So we've got to guard the perimeter but at the same time, I can't let Amber get 30 again."

The Cardinals (21-12) get a second chance to try to slow Harris, the Atlantic 10's two-time player of the year, when they play second-seeded Xavier (29-2) on the same court Tuesday in the second round of the NCAA tournament. This time, they'll have a lot of fans tagging along for support.

Louisville was second in the nation to Tennessee in home attendance, drawing more than 10,000 fans per game. They had a large, loud crowd on Sunday for their 81-62 first-round win over Vanderbilt. They're expecting a lot of fans to make the hour-and-a-half drive again, diluting Xavier's home-court advantage.

"I think with all of our fans here, it will feel like more of a neutral court," forward Monique Reid said. "Yesterday was really great having all of our fans here. It definitely felt like a home game and gave us a little more motivation throughout the game."

The young Cardinals played their best all-around game of the season in the NCAA tournament, led by freshman point guard Shoni Schimmel. Louisville also starts two sophomores.

They were still learning to play together the last time they visited. Louisville pulled out to an 11-point lead in the first half by running their fast-paced offense and getting Xavier center Ta'Shia Phillips, the nation's second-leading rebounder, in early foul trouble.

Phillips played only 20 minutes before fouling out with five points and six rebounds, one of her worst games of the season.

"Honestly, I don't even remember," Phillips said on Tuesday. "It was that far in the past."

The 6-foot-6 center had 27 points and 15 rebounds in Xavier's 72-56 win over South Dakota State in the first round. Coach Kevin McGuff expects Walz — a close friend — to make her a priority again in the rematch.

"I take it somewhat as an encouraging sign that Ta'Shia didn't have her best game the first time we played them, but we were still able to win," McGuff said.

When Xavier fell behind by 11 in that first game, McGuff called a timeout and urged Harris to stop settling for jump shots and attack the basket. She responded immediately, starting Xavier's comeback. The Musketeers took control with a 19-3 run early in the second half.

The Musketeers' lesson: Don't let the Cardinals get off to a quick start.

"We are going to have to come out with a lot of intensity at the beginning," point guard Special Jennings said. "They came out with a lot of intensity yesterday and had Vanderbilt on their heels and they couldn't get back into the game."

McGuff watched the first half of Louisville's opening win and was impressed with how much the Cardinals had grown in four months.

"They can be spectacular, and then they can have some lulls in the game, and I think that's a lot due to their youth," McGuff said. "As they have matured and grown through the year, you see less of that. And that's why they're playing as well as they are right now."