CRAWFORD | After Clemson win, Louisville women set sights on No. 1 UConn
With a 65-46 win over Clemson in the books, the Louisville women's basketball team turns its attention to No. 1-ranked Connecticut, though to be honest, the game has been on their minds for a while.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In some ways, the minds of the University of Louisville women’s basketball players have been on this game for a while.
Certainly, you have to figure they were thinking about Connecticut while they were playing Clemson Wednesday night, a 65-46 victory that bore all the focus of your grandfather’s home movies.
“At first when I saw UConn (on the schedule) I said, whaaat?” junior Sam Fuehring said after the win over Clemson. “It was always my dream school, to be honest, but I knew I wasn’t meant to go there. But seeing that on our schedule, and when we started playing games, and seeing, ‘Dang, we’re good, we can keep up with most of the teams in the country,’ so, it’s just building up our confidence that we can play with them. They’re the best, and we can play with them.”
Well, the No. 4-ranked Cardinals (25-1) can play with them if they play exponentially better than they did Wednesday night. After a half-dozen times watching his team throw up a shot without fully running its offense, Louisville coach Jeff Walz turned to his assistants and said, “I can’t coach this.” Now, granted, he says that at some point just about every game.
But the message to his team afterward was clear: It will have to be light years better, especially defensively, if it wants to have a shot against No. 1-ranked and unbeaten UConn in Storrs, Conn., Monday night. The good news for Louisville is that a game like this can sharpen the team’s focus, as a game against then-No. 2-ranked Notre Dame did last month.
The Cardinals turned in their best effort of the season in a 100-61 victory over the Irish. They’ll need something like that against the Huskies, who are 23-0 and will be playing in front of a sold-out home arena.
“We’re going up there with the plan to win,” Walz said. “We know we’re going to have to play much better than we did tonight. But at the same time, we’ve played well enough throughout this season to be able to go up there and compete. If you don’t go with the idea to win then there’s no sense to go. I can promise you we’re going to go up there with a lot of respect for their program and what they’ve done, but you can’t fear them. If you go up there and you’re scared there’s no sense to even play.”
UConn will be a new experience for his players, but it isn’t for Walz. The Cardinals and Huskies were conference rivals not so long ago. Butting heads with perhaps the most dominant program in college sports was routine. So was losing to the most dominant program in college sports.
Since beginning play against each other as members of the Big East Conference, Louisville is 0-16 vs. the Huskies. It’s like this. In 2008-09, Louisville and star forward Angel McCoughtry lost five games and played for the NCAA championship. Three of those losses were to UConn. In the Big East Tournament championship in Hartford, the Cardinals lost 75-36. In the NCAA title game, they lost 76-54.
Both times U of L has been to the championship game, Connecticut ended its title dreams. The last time they played was a 72-52 win in the AAC championship game in 2014. That came just a week after UConn had beaten Louisville 68-48 on Senior Night, but UConn coach Geno Auriemma made sure to leave his team on the court for U of L’s senior ceremonies honoring Shoni Schimmel and others, played in front of a large KFC Yum! Center crowd that featured native Americans from all over the nation, some of whom had traveled all the way from Alaska by bus.
“I just wanted them to see this and be a part of it,” Auriemma said.
From Walz's early years as a coach, when Auriemma made fun of his “Italian restaurant tablecloth shirt” to today, a mutual respect grew between the programs, even if Louisville was unable to turn that into much in the way of close games on the court.
This Louisville team was built with UConn in mind, though it doesn’t quite match the All-American quality of the Huskies at nearly every position. Four Connecticut players are Wooden Award nominees.
What Louisville has is threats inside and out, with Asia Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen. It has better size than some of its past teams, and toughness in Fuehring and an athletic dimension in Jazmine Jones. It has better depth. Kylee Shook had 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench Wednesday.
What Walz will have to have from all of them is a season-best type of performance.
“Coach tells us we can’t just turn it on,” Fuehring said. “But we’re going to have to turn it on.”
“We’re going to have to be very efficient,” Walz said. “When you look at them, they’re all shooting 50 percent or better. One thing I’ve always said about them, you have to guard all five. They’re the one team that we play, from my 11 years here, you can’t junk anything up. I can’t not guard somebody and say, I dare you to make it. Because they all make it.”
Few expect Louisville to go into Storrs and win. But Louisville can go into Storrs and find out where it needs to improve as it heads into the stretch run of the season. The Cardinals are trying to win the school’s first ACC championship, and its first league championship of any kind since Walz arrived as coach. Walz doesn’t want his team to lose sight of that.
But from the standpoint of learning and improving, UConn can’t hurt Louisville, though as it has shown before, against the Cardinals in the past and a couple of top-team teams who lost by double-digits this season, it can hurt your pride.
From the start of the season, Louisville coaches have at times told their players to, “Play hard, like UConn.”
“I hate it,” Fuehring said. “We’ve got to play like Louisville. We’ve got to play our best every, single time. There’s nothing wrong with comparing to UConn, because they are the best. But I love that we can pay like Louisville. I want people to say, ‘Play like Louisville,’ not play like UConn.’”
On Monday night in front of an ESPN2 audience, we’ll see how they match up.
WDRB's Eric Crawford and Mike Lacett will be in Connecticut for Monday's game. Watch for updates on WDRB.com and WDRB-TV.
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