CRAWFORD | For Louisville women, the lights are on as they return home for matchup with Duke
The University of Louisville has put together some dominant stretches in games this season. When No. 17-ranked Duke visits on Thursday, they'll try to sustain it for four quarters.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Here’s Jeff Walz, Christmas sweater and all, flipping the switch on his University of Louisville women’s basketball team, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-style, and up it lights, in all its glory.
It opens on the road against a Top-5 opponent and gets 47 points from Asia Durr – the most scored in an NCAA Division I game this season, men or women -- to win in overtime. It beats a nationally ranked Oregon team by double digits. Same for a nationally ranked Michigan group. It holds N.C. State (ranked No. 21 in the RPI) without a field goal for an entire quarter. The only point it gives up is when it steps into the lane early on a free throw to allow another attempt.
The Cards are ranked No. 3 nationally. They have won 16 straight games to open this season, a school record. Amid all that, sometimes it struggles. It gets a bit passive offensively. It has to hang on after losing big leads. Walz finds himself flipping that switch and nothing happens.
But goodness, when the lights flash on, Walz sees something. Anyone who watches them sees something.
“We have it. Yes,” Walz said. “Defensively, (at N.C. State) it was as good of a complete game -- we held them to 47 points -- we followed the scouting report . . . We did a lot of great things, now as we keep talking, we've got to try to put that together now, see if we can't put together a 40-minute game, and put it in place. The encouraging thing for me, not just through our past two road games but for the entire season so far, is we haven't gotten really rattled. We go down at Ohio State, they come back and tie it up and it goes overtime, and we've kept our composure. I thought in both games, the (Georgia) Tech game and N.C. State, we kept our composure, and found a way to win. And that says a lot about the players and their character.”
Through the Christmas break, the Louisville women’s team has been working overtime. Extra time in the weight room. Extra time in the gym. Extra time with video. Extra time with each other.
Walz has a vision for how good this team can be. The players are starting to share that vision. Now, they’re hoping that their fan base will buy into it and start showing up in the kinds of numbers it did when the program has been rolling in recent years. Attendance, overall, is down. When No. 17-ranked Duke visits the No. 3-ranked Cardinals Thursday night at 7 p.m., they hope it is up.
“Coach Walz talks about it all the time -- we show at times that we can be the third-ranked team in the country, and then we show, at times, that we're not,” Durr said. “But he's excited for us, because he knows how great we could be as a team. He’s saying if we can play great for all four quarters and stay dialed in, then, you know, we can do some very special things.”
Durr is a big part of that vision. So is Hines-Allen. In the end zone of Louisville's practice facility are the portraits of the program's All-Americans. If you have one of those players on your team, chances are you've got a special group. If you've got two of them, it's rare. That's what Louisville has with Durr and Hines-Allen. It never has had that before.
Durr is averaging 20.1 points per game, shooting 46 percent from the field and 46 percent from three-point range. She is capable of scoring in big bunches. She had 20 points in the second quarter at Georgia Tech, playing in front of friends and family, and went to the locker room at halftime with 27.
“She's having a great year,” Walz said. “She's healthy, and that's one thing, I go back to her freshman year and I'm asking, is she really that good? She played the entire year recovering. And now she feels as strong as she's felt in three years. She's shooting the ball at a high efficiency, close to 50 percent from the three-point line, 50 percent from the field. When you can do that, you've got a chance to be special. But I'll give her this, and I say it all the time, she puts in the time. It's not an accident. That's what I try to tell all these players. If you're willing to put the time in, if you're willing to invest in yourself, you'll eventually get the return. Part of the problem is, some of them just want an instant return, and that's not going to happen.”
At the same time, Durr’s offensive brilliance might also be playing into some of Louisville’s offensive inconsistency.
“There's times during games where we watch Asia,” Walz said. “I told her that the biggest mistake I made during that run was I put her back in the game. I took her out early in the second quarter, and then we start to extend things, because offensively we were flowing well. Then I put her back in and we were stagnant. It's not her fault. It's just, we kind of get caught up in watching what she can do, and she actually missed a few shots, which I think everyone was surprised at. God forbid she miss any, but it happens, and instead of extending the lead, then they make a run.”
But even in close games, the Cards have Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen making big plays in pressure situation. Hines-Allen, a senior, is averaging 13.8 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. She had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the win at N.C. State, including the key blocked shot and layup late to seal the victory.
“She has to play at the level that she played against N.C. State,” Walz said. “We've got all this technology that they wear, that can show high-efficiency jumps and all this. And when we looked at the data, the game that she gave the most effort since the Indiana game, and I think if you go back to that game she had 26 and 14. It doesn't take much. I joked with her. I didn't need them to send me that email to tell me that. I can tell what you've done. But for her, it does give a little bit of solid fact that, look, the last time you played this hard was our Indiana game, and look what you did.”
Hines-Allen said that being an experienced player, she is more comfortable in pressure situation. She improvised a winning layup at Georgia Tech when she saw the play was going to be well defended. She calls them “senior moves.” She has played on good teams at Louisville. She has played a lot of basketball. She knows, this team has a chance to be different.
“We're capable of doing something special,” she said. “That score in the first quarter of N.C. State was something that no other team did here. So it's kind of cool that we're able to make history like that, and we know that we're capable of doing those kinds of things. We just have to keep working.”
These Cardinals are confident. But Walz doesn’t expect them to be overconfident. One reason for that is his own blunt, often critical style. Another is that he has high expectations for younger players to keep getting better – Jazmine Jones, Kiley Shook, Sam Fuehring.
“I do a pretty good job of keeping them grounded,” Walz said. “Come out to practice, and you’ll see, I try to keep them as humble as I can. We're pretty focused on what we do and not who we play. Will we go over Duke? Of course. They're a really good basketball team. But we're more concerned right now with how we are taking care of things. And if we can continue to keep that approach, then you don't get as worried about what your record is. Would I love to finish the year undefeated? Of course. But am I expecting that? No. We're a good basketball team. But we have our weaknesses. We have our areas that we have to continue to work to improve on, and that's what we're going to do.”
On Thursday night, after three weeks away from the KFC Yum! Center, they’ll pick up that chase again at home. They hope they’ll have plenty of support.
“It would mean a lot,” Durr said. “Our fans are awesome. That's one of the reasons I came here. We have, I personally think, the best fans in the country. We come to games and see them with customized shirts on with our pictures, or those big pictures of us, it's amazing. I've never seen anything like that. And I know Coach Walz and the whole staff have been busting their tails to try and get 10,000, 12,000 back in there each night.”
Walz has delivered the team. We’ll see if the city responds in bigger numbers.
Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.