LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- If we have learned anything the past four seasons, it's that Alyssa Thomas and Shoni Schimmel don't need much help. Thomas doesn't need help to morph from small forward to point guard to battering ram in the span of a single possession. Schimmel doesn't need any assistance to bring a crowd to its feet with a flashy move.
So while the top two seeds in the Louisville Regional will wake up Monday morning and get ready for class, the top two players in this part of the bracket will continue to prepare to play for a place in the Final Four in Nashville. There is nothing coincidental about those contrasting fates.
Whatever their professional futures, Thomas and Schimmel are better than those against whom they currently compete.
They certainly were Sunday afternoon in performances that earned each of them a Tuesday night.
"She always figures out a way to play her best basketball at the right time of the season," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of Schimmel after she finished with 19 points, six assists and two turnovers in a 73-47 win against LSU in which her services weren't needed down the stretch of a rout.
He could have been talking about Thomas. Instead, Tennessee coach Holly Warlick was left to voice that lament after she watched Thomas pile up 13 rebounds and a career-high 33 points and almost visibly break a team's spirit.
"We didn't have an answer for her," Warlick said.
But it doesn't hurt to have some help all the same.
Maryland's Lauren Mincy and Louisville's Tia Gibbs and Asia Taylor couldn't help a season ago, all sidelined by season-ending injuries well before their respective teams reached the postseason. All showed Sunday the degree to which Thomas and Schimmel don't have to do it all on their own -- even if both at times can.
Maryland jumped in front of Tennessee almost from the outset in Sunday's first game, a 13-2 run early in the first half propelling them to a double-digit lead that they maintained throughout most of the game. But with less than six minutes to play, the Lady Vols finally brought the deficit back within single digits. Maryland's bench was littered with players in foul trouble by that time, including freshman point guard Lexie Brown after she picked up her fourth minutes earlier. Already doing much of the heavy lifting, Thomas took over as the primary ball handler.
Amidst all of that, as the clock ticked down and Tennessee tried to rally, Thomas scored 10 consecutive points for Maryland on an assortment of offensive rebounds, mid-range shots and twisted, contorted finishes in traffic. In almost every case her points in that span came in reply to points on the other end from the Lady Vols.
Had it been tennis, it would have been deuce after deuce, Tennessee desperately trying to break Maryland's serve and Thomas wearing down her opponent's resolve point by point.
So of course Tennessee fixated on her as she reached the top of the key with about 5:20 on the clock -- so did everyone in the arena. At which time Thomas whipped a pass to the left corner and watched Mincy knock down a 3-pointer to push the lead back to double digits. The margin never again reached single digits.