CRAWFORD | In Stanford-Louisville NCAA matchup, a premium on coaching
Louisville coach Jeff Walz faces a Hall of Fame counterpart in Stanford's Tara Vanderveer when the teams meet tonight at 9 p.m. in NCAA Lexington Regional.
LEXINGTON Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville coach Jeff Walz has become one of the top recruiters in the college game in recent years. He has leveraged the facilities and community support the school and city have afforded him into a roster full of high school All-Americans and another talented class on the way.
But what Walz always has brought to the game, whether he had superior talent or not, is a tactician’s mind. There’s no other way to win when you bring your No. 5 seed into a virtual NCAA Tournament road game with a top-seeded and one-loss Baylor team with the game’s most dominant player and pull off an upset.
His ability to game plan for an opponent wins quite a few games over the course of a season, and it gives his players cause for confidence heading into tonight’s 9 p.m. NCAA Lexington Regional Sweet 16 matchup against Stanford.
“He knows the game,” Louisville senior Myisha Hines-Allen said. “He says it all the time how when he wasn't playing at NKU, he sat on the bench and actually had to watch the game. He wasn't getting a lot of playing time, so instead of like pouting about it, he actually sat down and learned the game, and that's why I think he's so successful now, because he's not worried about what happened that last play but how to beat this team doing something else. If it's not working, he knows, like, what to do.”
His players know this from experience. Sometimes Walz will stop his team in the half court, take a second and look at the defense and personnel, and then call the play, almost like an offensive coordinator in football.
“I mean, it actually works,” Hines-Allen said. “Like the stuff works. And you're like, how did you actually come up with that? The game is going on, and he's like, give me the board, and he draws something up real fast, and it works. He's unique. That's a good guy, good guy to have on your side.”
What makes Friday night’s game interesting is that the coach on the sideline is just as adept at pregame and in-game adjustments.
Of all tournament rounds, the Sweet 16 tests coaches. They’ve had time to prepare for each other. It comes up again in the Final Four, but there the stage is so big and there are so many other distractions that it’s less certain what you’re going to see. In the Sweet 16, if a coach can make a move to snatch victory away, this is where such a move will pay off.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is a basketball Hall of Famer. She’s won 1,000 games. She’s coached two national champions and a gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic team. A guard at Indiana during her playing days, she would watch men’s coach Bob Knight during practice, and patterned her approach to what he was doing.
“I've watched Tara for years,” Walz said. “She does a remarkable job. She's a Hall of Famer for a reason. We know that they're going to be very well-prepared and very well-coached. . . . You know they’re going to have a plan, a way they want to attack you, and you know that you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that.”
Vanderveer recruits intelligent, talented players who not only know what she wants them to do, but what the other team is trying to do against them. When Stanford senior Kaylee Johnson was asked about Louisville on Thursday, her answer reflected that.
“We know they play scouting report, so yeah, that's something that we'll have to be aware of,” she said. “But I mean, we're okay with it. We've played teams who have played scouting report before, and we've been able to succeed against them. So I think just being aware of how they're playing, what they're trying to do or what they're trying to force us to do will be helpful. . . . They just prepare really well for their opponents. They don't let them do what they like to do, so you have to score in different ways.”
A year ago, Stanford came to Lexington and upset No. 1 seed Notre Dame to reach the Final Four. Two years ago, Stanford came to Lexington and upset No. 1 seed Notre Dame to reach the Elite Eight. Now, for a third straight year, Stanford is coming to Kentucky to face a No. 1 seed.
“We're really excited to be back,” Vanderveer said. “We have great memories of being here in the past, and we want to make some new ones this time around. . . . I think there's a certain -- there was a certain familiarity, like you know the building, you've been here before, you have great memories from being here before. . . . Our team has, I think, confidence, and there's a certain relaxation -- you're relaxed at the same time. We're in the same hotel or whatever, and there's a certain comfort that comes with familiarity. That won't be enough, however. We know we have to play really well.”
Louisville players know the same thing.
“They're a big team,” Hines-Allen said. “They like to run in transition. They're well-coached. You've got a Hall of Fame coach on their end coaching them up. So we know it's going to be a hard-fought game. It's going to take 40 minutes to beat this team, and we just all have to be dialed in and know that scouting report and who's who on that team, who we're going to be sagging off, who we're going to let shoot the three. So I mean, we just have to be dialed in and know the scouting report.”
And in this matchup, the moves made on the sidelines might be as interesting as the ones on the court.
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