LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Before he became the national spokesman for the elimination of participation trophies in American youth sports, Jeff Walz was a women’s college basketball coach.

All right, he’s still coach at the University of Louisville. And he’s been amused at the media mileage his mini-rant on the effect of a lack of competition has had on young people, after he mused about it following the Cardinals’ loss to Maryland last week.

But the bottom line was that he wanted to deliver a message to his players about competing hard, and on Sunday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center, Walz’s players showed him they had gotten his point in a 69-67 overtime win over No. 17-ranked Kentucky.

It wasn’t always pretty. The No. 7-ranked Cardinals (7-2) shot just 36 percent from the field and made only 9 of 20 free throws, but they got some big shots from sophomore Asia Durr, including a long three to open the overtime period, and dogged Kentucky into 19 turnovers while dominating the offensive glass 21-8. Those are hustle stats, and they’re what Walz was hoping to see.

Durr scored four points in the overtime, including a big free throw with 2:47 left to give Louisville a five-point lead. Myisha Hines-Allen had 26 points before fouling out in overtime. The Cards missed on some chances to win the game in regulation. After more than five scoreless minutes, they erased a 54-50 deficit, but threw away an inbounds pass with four seconds left in regulation and Kentucky’s Makayla Epps got a clean look from three for a game-winner, but missed.

The Cards took a quick 5-0 lead in overtime and held on after Maci Morris hit a three-pointer with five seconds left that pulled Kentucky within 68-67. Then it was up to Briahanna Jackson, who made one of two free-throws with 4.1 seconds left, then hounded Kentucky point guard Taylor Murray in the lane until the buzzer sounded with no shot getting off.

The win ended a five-game winning streak in the series for Kentucky (6-2) and coach Matthew Mitchell, and helped Louisville bounce back from back-to-back losses to No. 3 South Carolina and No. 5 Maryland.

“It just feels good to get a win,” Walz said. “It has been a pretty intense week. South Carolina on a neutral floor, Maryland here at home, and Kentucky here at home. It has been a very, very intense week. There are a few schools who have played a schedule three games in a row like that, but there aren't many. It shows just a little fortitude. I thought we showed a little will to win tonight. I thought Kentucky played hard too. I don't think anybody can question if both teams played hard.”

Asked how he thought his players responded to his widely circulated comments, Walz said he believed they did. 

“We fought, which I was proud of,” Walz said. “I stand 100 percent behind my postgame comments. I never believed they would get to where it was. Let’s not be so sensitive. I’ve got a nine-year-old when we play tic-tac-toe I’m trying to beat him, and he’s trying to beat me too. I tell people, I grew up with two brothers and a younger sister who was a pretty good basketball player, and we used to go out in the backyard and it was war. I wasn’t going to let her win. My brothers weren’t going to let me win.”

Walz brought Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich into his team’s practice this week to talk to his players, according to Hines-Allen: “He talked to us after practice one day and he was telling us just how important this game is.”

Mitchell said his team gave great effort, but may have been worn down in overtime. Epps played  45 minutes, as did junior guard Makenzie Cann, while Murray played 44 minutes and Morris 42.

“In overtime . . . we just couldn’t stay organized,” Mitchell said. “But I’m proud of this team. It looked like our goose was cooked a couple times there and we just kept coming back, so credit Louisville for playing hard, but I'm happy to be driving back to Lexington with this team that I am fortunate enough to coach and we'll just get better from here..”

Murray finished with 21 points for Kentucky and Morris added 10. Louisville got 15 points from Durr and 10 rebounds each from Jackson and Cortnee Walton.

After the game, Walz shook his head at all of the attention his comments last week got, including mention on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“Some people get all offended,” Walz said. “The wonderful thing about our country, I can have my own opinion. . . . I got just a shocking email from a gentleman, who told me that one percent of the youth that play sports care about winning or losing. Only one percent, when you survey, he said only one percent care about it. Well that’s, in my opinion, we’ve got problems if that’s true. And again, it’s not about if you win and lose, but it’s how you compete. We’ve lost two national championship games here, and after the game, I told our kids I was proud of them. I thought we competed. I thought we played hard and gave it everything we had and lost. But we still lost. . . . I kind of laugh with all this that got as big as it did. Why do they give grades in school? Why don’t we just give everybody the same grade? You get youth in sporting events — my son and daughter have played — they don’t keep score. Then they go to class and if they don’t spell their spelling words right, they don’t all get the same grades. So what’s wrong with keeping score in sports. What’s wrong with learning from a mistake? . . . And that’s just my opinion, everybody’s got one.

“Not everybody does it my way. There’s a hundred ways to coach people. All I know is even the ones I’ve butted heads and we didn’t see eye to eye, two or three years after they’ve graduated and matured a little bit, they say, ‘I see what you were trying to say.’ I want them to be great. . . . I love these kids. I’m grateful to all of them.”

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