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CRAWFORD | Reality show: How Louisville's women rebooted from 1-4 to win 13 straight

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Jeff Walz speaks to his team before Thursday's win over Clemson. photo by Michelle Hutchins. See a gallery from the game here Jeff Walz speaks to his team before Thursday's win over Clemson. photo by Michelle Hutchins. See a gallery from the game here

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville women’s basketball team, ranked No. 8 in the preseason on the potential of the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, lost four of its first five games.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Young team. Good competition. Nice-guy coach.

Wait a minute. Back up. Nobody has accused Jeff Walz of being too easy on his teams before. He’s humorous and quick with one-liners, but he’s also bitingly sarcastic at times. And he can be unsparing in his criticism.

But Walz admitted, after the Cardinals won their 13th straight game on Thursday night, 75-33 over Clemson, that he might’ve psychologically changed his approach before this season, knowing how young his team is.

“I started off a little more patient with them,” Walz said. “And that’s probably part of the reason we started off 1-4. I should’ve demanded that it’s done right. Instead I tried to coach them, ‘You’ve got to do this,’ and then they’d make the same mistake. I put that back on me. That’s my fault. Today’s day and age, you just have to tell them, this is how it’s going to be. And it’s tough for some of them, because they’ve never been told they’re not the best player on the floor. They’ve just been told, ‘You’re the best.’ And they’re not the best. They’ve got to work to become better, and they don’t like that. They tell you, ‘I’ve always been told I’m great.’ Well they lied to you. You were great in high school, but out here, everybody’s on scholarship.”

Fortunately for the Cardinals, the message was received. Walz was unyielding with his team — and with his expectations — after the rough start. The team got a big win at Michigan State. It lost by 18 at Kentucky, but since then has had only a single close call — a 92-90 win at N.C. State in which it came from 14 down and outscored the Wolfpack 7-0 in the final 23 seconds to pull out the win.

The Cardinals playing better on offense — making the extra pass, being more aggressive, learning where their shots come from. The defense is better than it was, though it still needs work. But the loose collection of high school all-stars who thought the could conquer the world one-on-one is no more. Even without leading scorer and rebounder Myisha Hines-Allen, who missed the game to attend the funeral of her grandfather in New Jersey, the Cardinals were clicking on offense Thursday. (Click on the box score to enlarge game statistics.)

Their 13-game winning streak now matches the seventh-longest active winning streak in women’s basketball, third-longest among power-five conference teams. But Walz says he’s not worried about his young team getting caught up in its success, because he can simply point back to its slow start for an object lesson.

“You've seen me coach,” he said. “I don't think I let them get too comfortable. I didn't think we played great tonight. There were stretches that we shot it well and did some good things, but then we had some stretches it was just not pretty basketball. It's easy to go back and say we started off 1-4, 2-5, because we didn't do what we're doing now. We didn't rebound the ball well, we didn't make the extra pass, we tried way too much one-on-one. It's my way and now we're starting to share the basketball. It's real easy to make sure we don't get too full of ourselves.”

One way came just 1:57 into Thursday night’s blowout win. After a pair of what Walz thought were careless turnovers, he yanked his entire starting five with a 4-0 lead and put his second five onto the court.

That group, of Erin DeGrate, Asia Durr, Dakota Weatherford, Taja Cole and Brianna Jones extended the lead to 15-4 before leaving with 4:15 left in the first quarter.

“We just turned the ball over two of the first three possessions of the game,” Walz said. “It's not acceptable, so I just tried to get their attention and I thought the five that I put out there did well and really brought some energy and played well. I was excited for that."

The Cardinals made nine three pointers, including three of four from Briahanna Jackson, who led them with 13 points. Freshmen Sam Fuehring and Asia Durr had 12 each. Mariya Moore added 10. Cortnee Walton and DeGrate had 10 rebounds each. The Cards dished out 20 assists for their 29 field goals, led by Durr with 5 — and no turnovers, which was especially important for a team that had 20 turnovers.

Now Walz is hoping his team can take the next step — which is not just executing the offense and defense, but understanding it. He wants his players to begin to recognize situations on the court, what the defense is doing, and attack it.

“We have to become smarter on the floor,” Walz said. “We have to recognize who is scoring and how are they defending? Especially against the zone tonight. Like, BJ had hit a three and then a pull up, I think, and she didn't get another shot for four minutes and they are playing zone. I mean, all you have to do is dribble at her, throw the ball, call for it back, and then dribble away and throw it right back to her and she is wide open. You know, just simple basketball that we are struggling to grasp right now. That is a challenge for the point guards. I have to get Arica Carter, Taja Cole - they have to want to actually embrace learning the game. They are so used to playing AAU and high school ball where it really doesn't matter. You're just better. You just run by everyone, you score and you look great. Well now, it's getting to the point where you have to understand what is going on. What are we trying to do? Why are we doing it? And that is my challenge to them, and if we can get one of those two to really elevate their IQ of knowing what we are trying to do, then we are going to take that next step as a team. So I am challenging both of them to try and figure out if they can both do it, great, but, if not, if one of them can do it, then all of a sudden they're going to be getting more of the minutes."

Walz was asked if having a team this young presented more of a coaching challenge than past teams. Walz acknowledged it can be tough coaching younger players — but said it’s also fun coaching talented players.

“I think it's really trying to get them out of their own way, that's part of it,” Walz said. “If they'll give in to realize, ‘If I start doing what coach is asking me to do I'll get better.’ Instead sometimes they think they have all the answers and then you come out here in a game and they won't do what we're trying to get them to do, and then it's a turnover, then it's a travel. Once they get out of their own way and start realizing this is a different game than high school . . . I think you're going to see some really special things from these kids. We are talented, there's no question about it.”

Louisville returns to play on Sunday against Wake Forest in the KFC Yum! Center at 1 p.m.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved. Photo via by Michelle Hutchins. View a complete gallery from the game by clicking here.

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