CRAWFORD | Walz sprints to 200th career victory as Louisville wo - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Walz sprints to 200th career victory as Louisville women pound Syracuse

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — They showed a video after the No. 8 University of Louisville women's basketball team beat No. 23 Syracuse 78-58 to give head coach Jeff Walz his 200th career win.

Here was U of L athletic director Tom Jurich introducing the young first-time head coach eight years ago, and Walz comes onto the screen, wearing a tie, and stuttering out his first words.

“I was afraid they were going to show about three minutes of it, just me stuttering,” Walz said.

There are several things that have changed about Walz since that day. His stuttering has subsided considerably, thanks to hard work and help from U of L's speech therapy program. He no longer wears ties. The color-blind coach used to bring four ties on game days to let players choose the one that matched the rest of his clothes. Now, he wears some kind of red-themed collared shirt, including one that Connecticut Geno Auriemma likened to the tablecloths in his Italian restaurant a couple of years ago before the Huskies were to meet Louisville in the NCAA championship game.

And yes, the other change. Walz is one of the top coaches in the women's game. He reached 200 wins nine games faster than Auriemma, the gold standard, though Walz said he thinks Auriemma is hardly worried. “He does have about nine national championships on me,” Walz said.

For his part, Auriemma has been as complimentary of Walz as he has any coach in the women's game. He told The Associated Press on the eve of Walz's accomplishment: “Louisville has a tremendous amount of resources, but a lot of other schools have the same types of advantages and they haven't accomplished what Jeff has. So his success is due in large part to his personality. He has gotten more accomplished in a short amount of time than anyone I can think of.”

Walz took chances. He'll tell you he took over a talented team. He didn't walk into a rebuilding program. But he took them farther than they had previously been. He inherited Angel McCoughtry. He developed Candyce Bingham. But few coaches would've seen the point guard potential in a player like Dez Byrd. That team went to the NCAA championship game, propelling U of L into a new echelon of women's basketball in just Walz's second season. But it had perhaps the best player in America. McCoughtry was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft.

Two years ago Walz took a team that no one expected to get past the round of 16 into the title game, and engineered perhaps the biggest upset in the history of the women's game to do it.

Baylor had gone 40-0 the season before. It had won 74 out of 75 games. It had 6-8 Britney Griner, the most dominant player in the women's game. It was playing Baylor in what amounted to a road game.

Walz gave his players a defensive game plan to win. They surrounded Griner at all times and gambled that other players wouldn't beat them. Then he told them they were going to shoot threes. And not just shoot them, they were going to make them. Something in Walz's personality, or what he said, or in his approach, gave those women confidence. They made 16 threes in the game, out of 25. And they hadn't been much of a three-point shooting team all season. They just believed.

He had the foresight to recruit Shoni Schimmel, who became one of the most popular players in the college game and captured the imagination and support of Native Americans from coast to coast.  They showed up from 40 states, rode in vans from Alaska and school buses from Oregon, to celebrate Shoni Schimmel and her sister Jude, 22,163 of them.

“I haven't made a shot or grabbed a rebound,” Walz said Thursday night. “It's all been about the players. I've just been privileged to coach them.”

One of the best things I can say for Walz is that his teams, when presented an opportunity to do something historic, more often than not have reached out and grabbed it, and even when they didn't, it wasn't for shying away from the moment, or lack of effort.

He's hard on his players. I remember sitting in a hotel lobby with him before the team's first Final Four trip, and a coach asking him how he got his players motivated to get into such good shape. Walz smiled as he told the story. “I tell them they're fat.”

Walz can deliver hard truths because he also delivers serious praise, and because there's never any question among his players that he cares about them and their basketball and life goals.

He laces his instruction with humor. And in a game where a less-talented team can often deal itself into a game with a more talented opponent if the coaching is right, Walz is very often right on the money.

“Whatever it takes for me to get each individual player to reach their full potential is what I want to do,” Walz said. “Because they all know, too, once the game is over, once we're done with practice, we have a good time. I'll cut-up with them, I'll laugh with them, I joke with them. What happens with basketball and what happens during the game stays here. I won't hold grudges, and I never have. I think that's why we've had success here. There's no mind game being played with our players. They know why they're playing. They know why they're not. If they're not, they know what they have to do to play. So it makes things real simple for them. Being able to do that, I think, allows them to have more confidence when they're out there on the floor, and I think that's a big reason why we've had the success here that we've had. . . . It's been a great eight years, and I plan to be here for a long, long time.”

Walz's 200th win was like many of his other wins this season. The Cardinals couldn't shoot straight in the early going. They made just 6 of their first 25 shots. Then they made 25 of their final 35.

“That second half was some the best basketball we've played all season,” Walz said. “. . . It's by far the best passing team that we've had. Really, really proud of how well we are sharing the basketball. I think tonight, you saw some kids that had some good shots make passes to players that had great shots, and that's what you've got to get to. And there's still times where we're trying to teach, don't pass up a four-footer to try to get a two-footer. That's a great shot. And that takes time, it takes showing them film and breaking things down, but yeah I was really, really proud of all of them. . . . You make 31 field goals and you've got 26 assists, there's not much one-on-one being played.”      

The Cards outscored Syracuse 49-28 in the second half. They shot 65.5 percent in the second half. Freshman Myisha Hines-Allen finished with 23 points on 11 of 14 shooting. Freshman Mariya Moore had 21, and made four three-pointers. Senior Sara Hammond and 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.

Hammond, afterward, gave Walz credit.

“He's just a great coach,” she said. “His passion for the game is like no other. He's so smart. I've never had the chance to sit down and just pick his brain and ask him how he's gotten to where he is now and what goes on in his brain because he doesn't think like all the other coaches. He doesn't have a set style of basketball. He just does whatever works and whatever is going to get the win. He's one of the most competitive coaches I've ever met and he pushes us every day. Some days we don't like him, but we know at the end of the day that he'll do anything for us, on and off the court. I'm just proud and excited for him because his hard work is paying off and, eventually here, if it doesn't happen this year, in these next five years I really think University of Louisville women's basketball is going to win a national championship and we owe a big part to Coach Walz and where he's brought this program these last eight years.”

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