BOZICH | Walz, Louisville remind Notre Dame's McGraw who's tops in ACC
In case Notre Dame and coach Muffett McGraw was uncertain of the best team and player in the ACC this season, Louisville coach Jeff Walz reminded McGraw and the Irish Sunday.
GREENSBORO, N.C. (WDRB) – The rainbow-colored confetti had already floated over every inch of the Greensboro Coliseum court. Hundreds of celebratory balloons floated down from the ceiling.
The scoreboard was adjusted for the final time:
Louisville 74, Notre Dame 72.
Give the Cardinals the ACC Tournament trophy along with the regular-season title that Walz’s 32-2 team won last month. Give credit to the Cardinals’ starting lineup. All five played at least 32 minutes and all five scored between 11 and 17 points – on a night when Louisville received no points from its bench.
But then make a note that Walz was not finished coaching.
If you watched Louisville’s victory on television, you likely noticed. Walz was done with his team, but he was convinced that he needed to coach Notre Dame’s Muffett McGraw in the handshake line. So he did.
This is what Walz told her: “My player’s name is Asia Durr.”
Well, that was most of what Walz said, certainly the part that I’m comfortable sharing in this column.
Even Walz confessed after the game that it likely was.
Certainly, considering McGraw had started the pettiness earlier in the week when she referred to Durr as “the other player,” while discussing why McGraw believed that a Notre Dame player, not Durr, deserved recognition as the ACC player of the year.
“I just wanted to make sure she knew her name was Asia Durr,” Walz said. “You know some can call me petty. I’m standing up for my players …
“I voted for Arike (Ogunbowale of Notre Dame), but Asia won it. Just be happy for somebody else and don’t take a shot at them. So I just made sure that she knew her name was Asia Durr."
Nobody asked McGraw for her response to the scolding from Walz because the majority of the media was on the floor watching Louisville accept the championship trophy and cut down the nets while Notre Dame answered questions in the post-game press conference.
But I asked Durr if she was surprised by the dust-up.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came here,” Durr said. “Coach Walz, he has our backs.
“On the court, he’s gong to push us. He wants us to be great. But when we’re not bouncing that ball or playing ball, he’s going to be there. At 3 o’clock in the morning, if we call him, he’s going to be there. That’s what I truly love about Coach Walz.”
I’ll give Louisville interim athletic director Vince Tyra the final word on the topic.
“(McGraw) is proud of her player but we’re certainly proud of the other player, too,” Tyra said.
Poking women’s basketball big shots like McGraw is not the only reason that Walz has grown the Louisville program into a howling force capable of forcing it way into the NCAA championship game twice, winning conference titles and consistently filling the lower bowl of the KFC Yum! Center.
But it’s certainly a good start.
Beating Notre Dame by two on a neutral court told Walz more about his team than beating the Irish by 33 at Second and Main streets on Jan. 11.
Durr failed to score in the first quarter. Guess who made Louisville’s final four free throws and led the Cardinals with 17 points. Durr, that’s who.
It wasn’t her best weekend of basketball. She was so relieved when she made her first jumper in the second quarter that Durr sighed and pointed at the ceiling. But when Louisville needed her to be the best player in the ACC, Durr delivered.
Arica Carter made four shots from distance as well as two free throws in the final 30 seconds for her 16 points. Sam Fuehring made all six of her field-goal attempts while scoring 15. Jazmine Jones dogged Notre Dame star Ogunbowale on the defensive end while retaining enough offensive sizzle to score 11.
“I thought Carter was the difference in the game,” McGraw said.
“It speaks to our team balance,” Walz said. “We have great team balance.
“We know when teams can pack down on (Durr), others can make plays. We had some big-time plays by everybody.”
Just senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen, who was presented the tournament MVP trophy by ACC commissioner John Swofford. Credit her with 15 points, nine rebounds and four solid assists, including a crisp pass to Fuehring that led to a three-point play that bumped Louisville ahead, 68-64, with 24.9 left.
Next for the Cardinals?
The athletic program is eager to serve as hosts for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Louisville should receive official word the Cards will be rewarded with No. 1 NCAA seed during the March 12 draw.
Win two there and travel to Rupp Arena for regional play. Win two there and the women’s Final Four is booked for Columbus, Ohio.
“We aren’t finished yet,” Walz said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. Every game is a grind … There’s 15, 20, 25, 30 teams out there that can beat us if we don’t come prepared to play. And we can beat anybody.”
Including Notre Dame and Muffett McGraw in the ACC regular season as well as the conference tournament.
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