Coming into Friday night's showdown between No. 9 Louisville and No. 12 Texas A&M the big question was whether Louisville could slow down 6-foot-4 Aggie center Kelsey Bone.
But the most effective post player in Friday night's top-15 showdown was Louisville sophomore Sara Hammond.
"Hammond was just a load in there," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. "She has a nice game. A nice game... you have to give Hammond credit. Hammond was the difference and their other post player did a nice job as well."
Hammond, a 6-2 forward from Rockcastle County, Ky., filled the stat sheet with 15 points and eight rebounds in the first half and finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds during Louisville's 58-50 win.
The first player from Kentucky ever named a McDonald's All-American, Hammond lived up to her prep hype Friday night.
"It was so good to see her play and have fun playing basketball," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "She worked so hard this summer and it is good to see that hard work paying off."
She split double-teams, snagged loose balls, picked up a pair of steals and even had an impressive block during Louisville's impressive victory. Hammond averaged just 12.8 minutes per game last season, scoring just 3.3 points, but she was huge for the Cardinals in the season opener Friday night.
Hammond's breakthrough performance came at an opportune moment. The Cardinals were playing without star guard Tia Gibbs (hip) and with Honorable Mention All-Big East forward Monique Reid limited while she recovers from knee surgery. Former starting forward Asia Taylor was on the bench in sweats.
With Hammond's help, Louisville out-hustled, out-worked and out-played the Aggies in the first half to the tune of a 31-21 lead.
A Texas A&M run in the second half cut the Cardinals lead to single digits by the 12 minute mark. The Aggies cut Louisville's lead to 39-33 by the midway point of the second half.
Reid picked up where Hammond left off, scoring crucial buckets in the second half and finishing with 10 points. A shot in the paint by Bone cut Louisville's lead to 41-37 with just over seven minutes left, and cut the lead to 41-40 two possessions later.
At the 4:51 mark, Bone tied the score for the first time since the 14:49 mark with a free throw. Her second free throw gave Texas A&M a lead. The Aggies pushed ahead on their next possesion with a jumper by Karla Gilbert.
A bankshot by Hammond cut the Aggie lead to 44-43, but a free throw by Gilbert at the other end put the Aggies up by two. Hammond hit 1-2 from the foul line with 2:42 left.
Louisville sophomore guard Bria Smith was fouled with 2:10 left and hit 1-2 to tie the score at 45. UofL appeared to have turned the Aggies over with a half-court trap just before the two minute mark, but Texas A&M got a timeout.
The Cardinals did turn the Aggies over after the timeout, but couldn't capitalize. After a missed shot by Texas A&M's Tori Scott, Louisville had an opportunity to pull ahead by two, but Smith missed a pair of free throws.
After a Texas A&M turnover, Walz called a timeout with 54.7 seconds left and the score tied at 45. After a trio of players tried to drive against the Aggies' defense, Hammond lofted an ill-advised three with six seconds left on the shot clock and Texas A&M collected the rebound.
After an A&M timeout, sophomore Jude Schimmel snagged the inbounds pass and sprinted ahead for a layup as the home crowd went wild.
"You have to give the other Schimmel a lot of credit," Blair said. "It wasn't just the steal and the layup, but how she handled the ball throughout the game."
After a missed bankshot in the paint by Bone, Hammond grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 8.8 seconds left. Hammond missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Texas A&M's last attempt clanked off the rim with two seconds left.