LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz is a funny guy. He likes to roll the dice, in a basketball sense. So when he had seen enough from the five players on the court in a lethargic first half of the Cardinals' 75-56 win over Central Florida Wednesday night, he waved five players off the bench in a mass substitution going into a timeout.
The only problem was that two of them didn't get to the scorer's table in time to resume play, so the Cardinals wound up with three players on the court for one offensive trip and one on defense.
Walz didn't play three on purpose. But he didn't mind.
"I told five new players to go in. I've only got 10 out there playing so I told the other five to go in and two of them weren't real quick to get up to the table," Walz said. "So the official wouldn't allow them to go in and I wasn't going to put any of the other five back in, that's for sure."
The Cards were up just 25-23 with 5:03 left in the first half when they found themselves with three players on the court. They went in at halftime up 42-26. Intentional or not, Walz got a 17-3 run out of his team.
"We have a long way to go," Walz said. "Unfortunately, we're not playing really well. We're winning basketball games, but part of it is because we're just more talented."
Walz said for his program to take the next step, it has to become competitive with the programs at the very top of women's college basketball, the programs ahead of it in the Top 5, in fact. The Cardinals are ranked No. 5 in the nation, but Walz said that's not worth much if the gap between his team and No. 1 stays large. The Cards are 17-1, and have won 10 straight. But they haven't reached the 80-point mark since back-to-back 100-point games in mid-December.
"If you want to compete with the UConns and the Dukes and Notre Dames, you can't play the way we're doing right now and expect to do that," Walz said. "It's nice to win, but we're just not really sharp with the ball at the offensive end. We're not boxing out. And right now our problem is, it's one person. And it's not the same person. It's one possession, one person doesn't box out. Then the next time down the floor, that person will box out but somebody else doesn't box out. We're just not at the point right now where they'll challenge each other. They're great young ladies. They really like each other. It's probably the best team chemistry I've been a part of in a long time. But at the same time, we don't have that person on the floor that's challenging each other. Saying 'It's unacceptable to not box out. We need you to box out. You've got to defend.' And that's what you've got to get to. You can't always get to a huddle at a dead ball and say, 'Hey, it's okay.' No, it's not okay. You've been beat three straight times, it's not good. And that's what we're really trying to find right now."
In some ways, U of L is in survival mode these days. It's dealing with injuries. Jude Schimmel has been out with an ankle injury. Antonita Slaughter has been slowed by a blood clot and heart ailment, and is working herself back into basketball shape.
But Sara Hammond said there still are plenty of players available for the Cards to be the kind of dominant team they want to be.
"This team has plenty of potential, I mean for us to return four out of our five starters, we have some nagging injuries but we have people that can step up at any given moment," she said. "So to come out and not play our best game and win by 19 you know that's good but we don't want to be good. Coach keeps telling us that if we want to be in that elite level we have got to learn how to handle teams like Connecticut does, and Connecticut is a team that everyone is trying to get at just like Baylor was last year. I mean we are trying to get on that level. Each day we have to get better and learn from our mistakes tonight but its good to get a win the way we played tonight."
Against Central Florida, Walz said his team knew before the game that the Knights were going to rely on forward Sara Djassi and guard Zykira Lewis after their leading scorer quit the team last week. He was unhappy that his team didn't execute its defensive scouting report, and allowed both of those players to have big nights.
"We let a kid score 28 that we knew coming into this game that they had two scorers, number 5 and number 20. You have to defend them," Walz said. "Djassi wants to go right every time and she went right every time. She gets 28 and Lewis gets 14 so we did a poor job. It is the first time in a long time that we have gone into a game knowing who their best players were, and actually allowed them to score that well. We have a long way to go at that end."
U of L got 27 points from Shoni Schimmel and 22 from Sara Hammond. Both played a game-high 22 minutes. The Cards outrebounded UCF 46-34 and dished out 15 assists as a team, led by Schimmel's five.
Walz said he hopes to get Jude Schimmel back by this Sunday when the Cardinals travel to SMU.
"We are hoping she can be back for Sunday," Walz said. "I am not going to guarantee that. We really need her to get back on the floor. We miss her and what she can do. How she can steady the ship. The way she can attack and dish the basketball. She has definitely been missed but we are at least finding some way to win basketball games."