BOZICH | Schimmel's Class Has Shaken Up Louisville Basketball
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Shoni Schimmel is the face of the University of Louisville women's basketball team. People recognize her. They're drawn to the creative way she plays the game. When they see her, they have questions.
This is a question somebody asked Schimmel the other day:
Have you ever played a game in Cardinal Arena on the northeast edge of campus?
Schimmel laughed. She's played every home game during her remarkable career in the same arena where the U of L men play – the KFC Yum! Center downtown.
"It (Cardinal Arena) is not even that many people," Schimmel said.
She was standing in Cardinal Arena with three of her fellow seniors as well as coach Jeff Walz. It is where the team practices. They gathered there Friday afternoon to discuss the conclusion of this season as well as the Cards' Senior Night game against top-ranked Connecticut Monday.
Actually the place has 840 theater seats. This Louisville team, the one ranked third in the nation, has already drawn 142,123 fans this season. They're hoping to fill all 22,000 seats for the game against the unbeaten Huskies. Walz said that nearly 19,000 tickets have been sold.
Let's say that all 22,000 seats are sold. That would put Louisville's season attendance at 164,123 for an average of more than 9,100.
In the pre-Tom Jurich days when the program played in Cardinal Arena, they'd have to fill the place about 195 times to draw that number over one season.
"Crazy," Schimmel said.
Here is what is not crazy: Crediting Schimmel and the team's other seniors, Asia Taylor, Antonita Slaughter and Tia Gibbs, with changing the perception of this program. They have earned the applause.
Sure Louisville surged when Angel McCoughtry gave the Cardinals star power – as well as a trip to the 2009 NCAA championship game. But many perceived the program as a one-woman band. Other programs had made their runs – and then disappeared.
That is not the perception of the program today. Now the Cardinals are perceived as a program that is serious about hanging out with the UConns, Notre Dames, Baylors and Tennessees at the top level of the women's game.
"This is a class that has done a lot for us," Walz said. "We had Angel McCoughtry. We go to the Final Four.
"We have some injuries the following year and we go 14-18 and everybody was starting to question (the future). Angel's gone. Candyce (Bingham) is gone. What are they going to be able to do?
"I think this class really showed that this is going to be a program."
Indeed. Louisville plays at Cincinnati Saturday before returning home to face Connecticut. Over the last four seasons, Louisville's record is 101-34 – a winning percentage of .750. The Cardinals will appear in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season, perhaps as a number one seed. Another trip to the Final Four is not an outrageous idea.
Has this group helped changed the perception of the program?
"I hope that's what it did," Schimmel said. "With women's basketball, you think of it seven years ago, it wasn't anything like this ... It's at its peak right now. To be a part of that, it's very special."
"With what we've been able to do recruiting wise, it's not just one or two teams coming through here," Walz said. "It's something that's been established and we plan on being in the top five, top 10 for years to come."
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