CRAWFORD | Louisville locks down No. 10 Oregon to win WNIT championship
It's still early, but Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz may have one of his best teams if last week's performance -- three wins over nationally ranked teams to win the Women's Preseason NIT -- is any indication.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jeff Walz is a one-man show during a basketball game. I’d tell you some of the things he says along the University of Louisville women’s basketball sideline, but then he’d have to kill me.
Best known, lately, for ranting about participation trophies, he gladly passed out some crystal trophies to his players on Sunday, after they beat a fourth NCAA Tournament team and third nationally-ranked team in eight days to win the Women’s Preseason National Invitation Tournament.
After beating No. 5 Ohio State on the road the previous Sunday and beating No. 24 Michigan by 25 points on Saturday, his Cardinals throttled an Oregon team averaging just under 95 points per game, 74-61 in the title game before a crowd of 6,162 in the KFC Yum! Center.
IMAGE GALLERY | Louisville wins the Preseason WNIT
Now, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. The season is young. But outside of Connecticut, it’s tough to make an argument for anyone having done more to open this season than Louisville.
“Louisville is a Final Four-type of team,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “They’re deep, with two legitimate scorers.”
Asia Durr led all scorers on Sunday with 26 points, despite missing most of the second quarter with foul trouble. Myisha Hines-Allen added 17 points and 12 rebounds. Both were named to the all-tournament team, with Hines-Allen winning MVP honors.
But it was on defense where Walz was most pleased on Sunday. The Cards held Oregon’s sharpshooting leading scorer, Sabrina Ionescu – a player averaging 20 points a game who holds a share of the Pac 12 record with six career triple-doubles -- to just 10 eight points on 3-12 shooting from the field. Louisville also forced 20 turnovers, and gave up just two second-half three-pointers.
“We came into the game with a plan, and I was really pleased,” Walz said. “Our players did an excellent job of executing defensively. . . . Oregon is a team that can put up a lot of points, and we did a remarkable job of taking them out of what they wanted to do.”
Louisville, in this stretch, has won in a variety of styles, with a variety of weapons, displaying depth, the ability to score in bunches (beating Ohio State 95-90) and an ability to shut opponents down (holding Michigan to 12 second-half points).
“We have a talented basketball team,” Walz said. “. . . If we can get everybody to dial in and play well on the same night, we have a chance to do some special things.”
A testament to the Cards’ depth. Walz had to sit Durr with her second foul with eight minutes to play in the first half. Louisville was up 10 at the time. She sat for the rest of the half, and the Cards still went to the locker room up by 16. In past years, Walz’s Louisville teams might not have extended the lead.
Jazmine Jones contributed eight big points, and Sydney Zambrotta had five points in nine minutes while Durr sat. The Cards also got 10 points from junior Sam Fuehring. Dana Evans, a freshman point guard from Gary, Ind., is providing a big boost off the bench at point guard, applying defensive pressure. On Sunday, she had six points and a team-best four assists.
That depth may set this group apart, Walz said. With his past very good teams, you take Angel McCaughtry off the court, or Shoni Schimmel, and things could get difficult. This team has Hines-Allen to hold it in place, and some talented players and round Durr to hold the line if she has to sit or is having an off night.
“We’re deeper,” Walz said. “With Shoni, with Angel, you know, I don’t necessarily think we had the depth at times. But what we’re able to do with Asia is take her off the ball, put her on the ball some, and move her around. And her teammates do a remarkable job of setting screens for her and finding her in space. But for Asia, I told her tonight, this is the best thing that ever happen to you, Jaz hitting pull-up jumpers, Myisha getting back to where she hits her 15-foot face-up shot, Syd hitting jumpers. That takes pressure off. You can’t step up and double her now.”
The season has only begun, and early momentum isn’t worth much. But being fast out of the blocks doesn’t hurt, especially for a team that is playing well, but nowhere near as well as it can.
Walz hasn’t had a real practice in more than a week, having had to prepare for five games in 10 days. Getting through that undefeated, Walz said, “is a huge step for us. It was a big week. . . . To be 5-0 I think shows the character of these young women.”
But beyond that, you can tell from listening to Walz that he likes the “feel” of his team.
“We have a great locker room, and these are really great young women,” Walz said. “Our locker room is as good as it’s been in 5-6 years. They actually care about each other. Some of them are upset they’re not playing more, which they should be. If they’re not upset, I’m really concerned. But they’re happy for their teammates who are succeeding. And we just have to continue to fight and get better, and then when your opportunity comes, you’re able to perform. But our chemistry is better, so when teams make runs, instead of pointing fingers, they’re all challenging each other, saying, ‘We need a stop.’ And they’re challenging each other, and they recognize who is hot, which is not always done, not only in college basketball, but pro basketball or anywhere. . . . That’s really the difference for us, players who want to win and don’t care who scores as long as we score.”
The Cards will return to action Friday against Murray State; tipoff is 1 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center.
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