LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For years, women’s college basketball teams have watched Connecticut stockpile five-star talent to the point that its second five was probably one of the top 10 teams in the nation. Only a handful of programs could hope to come close to that kind of overwhelming talent advantage.

This season, the University of Louisville aspires to be one of them.

That’s one of the things that gives games like Tuesday night’s a 91-56 victory over Tennessee Martin more meaning than the final score. It represents a chance for No. 4-ranked Louisville’s reserves to prove themselves every bit as capable of stepping on the gas as the team’s starting unit, or at least to earn enough minutes to get themselves to that point.

It’s also one reason you’re likely to see Louisville coach Jeff Walz get as angry as he did when his second unit failed to pursue a rebound late in the first half. UT Martin grabbed an offensive board, Walz turned to his starters and said, “Get them out. All five of them.” And that was just 1:35 after he’d put them all into the game.

PHOTO GALLERY | Louisville's win over UT Martin

Late in the third quarter, when he saw his team sleepwalking with a 24-point lead and two minutes to play in the third quarter, he called a 30-second timeout and delivered a chewing out of the type you don’t generally see late in blowout wins.

The message behind his madness is clear: This group has a chance to be special – it needs to realize that, and work all the harder because of it.

Walz designed this season’s schedule with that in mind. He threw the team into an early road game against a Top 5 opponent. The Cards beat three ranked teams in a row on their way to winning the Women’s Preseason NIT. He took them to South Dakota State, which doesn’t sound daunting, but actually is a difficult road environment, and the type of game against a non-household name on the road that challenges a ranked team’s psyche. They survived the test.

Louisville, which is ranked No. 3 in the most recent women’s RPI, has faced the sixth-toughest schedule in the nation so far, according to that index. Only Connecticut and Notre Dame are ranked higher in the RPI. Louisville will face Notre Dame at home in mid-January and Connecticut on the road in mid-February.
“We’ve had the opportunity to play some places where we’ve been challenged,” Walz said. “And we’ve played some pretty tough teams. To be 9-0 right now? I would’ve told you at the beginning of the season, if we’d been 7-2 right now, I’d have been excited with that, knowing where we were going to be playing and who we were going to be playing.”

Of course, it only gets tougher with conference play beginning, which is why Walz is pulling his hair out during what seems like garbage time against a team down by 20.

“Our depth is pretty good right now,” Walz said. ‘That’s one thing I’m excited about. . . . We’ve got a really deep group, where different players can step up.”

Asia Durr drew national attention when she scored 47 points – the most scored in a Division I women’s game so far this season -- in an overtime win at Ohio State. One game later she picked up her second foul and went to the bench with nine minutes left in the first half against a nationally ranked Oregon team.

“I figured if we could get through two or three minutes it would be good,” Walz said. “I take her out when we’re up 10, and before I know it, we’re up 18, with both her and Myisha Hines-Allen on the bench. In the past, I haven’t had that luxury, to take out some pretty darn good players and I’m putting in some good ones. And we’re playing well together as a team.”

Durr and Hines-Allen are a formidable duo. Durr leads the team in scoring. Hines-Allen is averaging a double-double.

But beyond those, Louisville has a wealth of players who are emerging.

Sophomore Jazmine Jones still makes mistakes, but is incredibly athletic and can put up numbers like the 14 points and five rebounds she collected Tuesday night and make it look easy. Kylee Shook, a 6-4 sophomore, is capable of stepping into the starting lineup, as she did on Tuesday. Bionca Dunham, a 6-2 sophomore, contributed 8 points, 7 rebounds and a pair of blocks in 18 minutes. Sophomore Sydney Zambrotta is improving defensively, and is capable of making three-pointers in bunches. She was 3-for-5 beyond the arc in a 13-point effort Tuesday.

Then there’s freshman point guard Dana Evans, who seems to become more valuable every game.

“Bionca rebounds the ball as well as anyone I’ve coached. She gets off the floor so quick,” Walz said. “Syd just needs to work on her defensive game and being more than just a shooter, but like I told her, ‘If you come out and make 3 for 5 from three-point line, you’re going to play in a lot of ballgames.’ And Dana off the bench, she can change the game. Her quickness, her athleticism can change the tempo of the game.”  

In all, the Cardinals had five players score in double figures Tuesday and their bench outscored UT Martin’s 35-15. The Cards also rolled up a 35-6 edge in points off turnovers.

“The depth is big for us,” Walz said. “Especially if you get into foul trouble or somebody sprains an ankle. Normally if you can get to eight or nine deep, you’re pretty darn good. Right now, I think we’re at that point. But we’re going to need some of them to be more consistent. You can’t come out tonight and shoot the ball well and then come out on Thursday and lay an egg. And that’s where I’m challenging them, but I do like our depth.”

In a balanced effort, the Cards got 16 points from Hines-Allen and 14 from Durr, as well as 10 points and four assists from Arica Carter. They rank ninth nationally in field goal percentage and shot 52.3 percent from the field Tuesday, and made 16 of 20 from the line.

The Cards will get one night off before facing Vanderbilt at the KFC Yum! Center on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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