Antonita Slaughter (right) cheered her University of Louisville teammates Saturday against Wright State. Louisville Athletics photo by Michelle Hutchins. See the full photo, and a gallery, at GoCards.com.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Antonita Slaughter left the hospital and spent Friday night in the dorm with her teammates. She was with the team during its pregame shootaround. On the sideline for Saturday's game against Wright State, she was back to her old self, smiling, joking with her teammates.
But life is not back to normal for Slaughter, nor for the Cardinals. Doctors still don't know what the heart ailment is that caused her to black out on the sideline during a game Tuesday. They found a blood clot in her lungs and have put her on a blood-thinning medication, but the underlying issue remains to be diagnosed, and she is facing more tests.
"It is something I hope I never have to experience again and something I hope my players never have to see again," Walz said of Slaughter's episode Tuesday. "A teammate is laying there unresponsive and her eyes are fixed -- it was extremely scary."
Slaughter wasn't made available for interviews on Saturday, but Walz said her disposition has been good since returning, and that was as big a factor as any in his team's 99-40 route of Wright State in the KFC Yum! Center.
"It is not easy for her right now," Walz said. "But I have really been impressed with how she has handled all of it. You go from being in college playing ball and going to class and you think everything is great, to being in the hospital having a hundred different tests run on you. She has really been good, and I think that is what has helped our team. She is at the game, she is smiling and cheering and encouraging everyone."
Slaughter averaged 10.1 points per game and was the team's most accurate three-point shooter last season. Without her, the Cardinals probably wouldn't have made it through to the title game. She made six threes in the national semifinal win over Cal, including three of four in the second half. It matched the Final Four record for threes in a game. Everybody remembers Shoni Schimmel staring down Britney Griner in a 22-point performance in the upset win over Baylor. Fewer remember that Slaughter made seven of nine three-pointers in that game and finished with 21 points -- and was the only Cardinal to play all 40 minutes. Her 18 three-point field goals matched the third-most ever made in the NCAA Tournament.
So more than just replacing a teammate, replacing Slaughter represents a basketball challenge for Walz and the Cardinals, and that's what he said to his team before the game.
"I don't need everyone to think that they need to make up Antonita's nine points (per game)," Walz said. ". . . We have to have some players who are willing to step up and make some plays defensively for us like Antonita used to do. I said on the radio that I need a few of them to knock down some threes. We don't have anyone who is going to replace Antonita's three-point shooting, not one. What we have to find is a few of them. Megan Deines going 1-for-1 from the three-point line is exactly what we needed. I don't need her taking four or five of them. I need her to go 1-for-2, or 1-for-3 where now she has to be guarded. Then you have to worry about the fact that she can shoot the three."
Against a Wright State team that knocked of N.C. State and gave NCAA Tournament participant Middle Tennessee a tough game, U of L stormed out to a 24-8 lead and was up 55-17 at half. It was the Cardinals' best rebounding game (57-36 edge) and its best defensive game. It outscored Wright State 60-14 in the paint and 30-4 off turnovers.
"It is definitely a sad thing that happened," senior forward Asia Taylor said. "We're all going to miss her, of course, but we all know the season goes on. She is there at practice and everything being her normal self. It's good to have her around. Our goal is still to go to Nashville (to the Final Four) no matter what."
Walz got great balance on Saturday. Of the 11 players he used, all but two had multiple rebounds. The Cards had been fouling in large numbers. They sent Wright State to the line only four times Saturday. Demmings, Wright State's star guard, had 30 points against N.C. State, 27 against Middle Tennessee and 28 against James Madison. She went 2-for-15 against U of L.
Walz said he would simply juggle his personnel to try to overcome the loss of Slaughter. He said he'll start Tia Gibbs, but try to protect her sometimes fragile health.
He was encouraged by the way his team responded on Saturday, and hopes his players will continue to rally around Slaughter.
"She still has some more tests in front of her," Walz said. "We are still trying to figure out what is going on with her heart. The blood clot is a different thing all together; we are just fortunate that they found it with all the testing they were doing. We are still waiting on (more testing) and it could be a few weeks away to a month, who knows? We are going to continue until we find out what is wrong."