LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Somebody ought to keep a stat for how much junior forward Sam Fuehring gets up off the court. In Louisville’s Sweet 16 victory over Stanford, my unofficial count was five. But I might’ve missed a couple.

She’s taking charges. She’s positioning for rebounds. Sometimes, she’s just getting shoved. Sometimes, she’s shoving herself. Somehow, in Friday’s win over Stanford, she pulled down a rebound and three Stanford players around her fell to the court. 

Louisville coach Jeff Walz called it, “the epitome of Sam Fuehring and what she does.”

“I don't know what happened,” Walz said. “I don't think she fouled them. But that's Sam. I mean, there's three kids on the ground, Sam gets the rebound and makes it, and then Sam falls.”

Her particular brand of toughness, and size, will be major factors when Louisville faces Oregon State for a trip to the Final Four at noon on Sunday in Rupp Arena.

Sam falls. Sam gets up.

It happens quite a bit, and it’s worth thinking about, because Fuehring has some experience with clawing back.

She remembers her family being evicted from its New Jersey home, having to gather a few of her possessions in a bag, stuffed animals, clothes, leaving many things behind, including some family cats. She lived in a relative’s one-bedroom apartment with her family for a time. Often, she was farmed out to other relatives. She bounced around. 

When that happens, nothing is permanent. The floor feels as if it could drop out at any time. A kid feels pummeled. Fuehring lost a two-year-old niece to a freak accident and struggled.

You don’t weather those kinds of storms and still grow as a basketball player, battle through and still maintain yourself as a high school student, unless there’s a massive store of toughness within you.

Fuehring didn’t feel tough when she got to Louisville as a McDonald’s All-American, but she is.

She hits the court, and the floor doesn’t fall out from under her. She bounces back up. In more ways than one.

As she moves from the difficult aspects of her childhood into a hopeful hoops future, she plays with a level of passion that runs deeper than the game.

“Sam has always been one that's embraced contact,” Walz said. “She never shies away from it.”

Louisville players wear certain sensors to gauge various things during games and practices. During Saturday’s game against Stanford, Walz said, “Sam had the highest output that she's had the entire season That's high-intensity jumps. That's all her explosive stop and starts. It's pretty impressive.”

During the ACC Tournament, Fuehring emerged as even more of a key influence on Louisville. She hit a big basket and was fouled late in the championship game win over Notre Dame. She went 6 of 6 from the field, 3-for-3 at the line, had five rebounds and two steals. If she’s not in the game, Louisville doesn’t win it, nor the semifinal game against N.C. State (15 points, 4 rebounds) nor the opening-round game against Virginia Tech (17 points, 6 rebounds). Myisha Hines-Allen was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, with 50 points and 26 rebounds in the three games. Fuehring had to have been a close second, with 47 points and 15 boards.

On the season, she's averaging 10 points and five rebounds a game, and it's a pretty good bet, she's going to get at least those numbers every game.

“Sam has always played hard,” Walz said. “Sam has always played extremely hard, in high school, in summer ball. Sam was not always as efficient around the basket back then as she is now. Sam is in probably the best shape of her life, which is translating over onto the basketball court. Her ability to finish with her left and right hand is as good as any post player that I've coached in 22 years. She keeps it high. She finishes with it high.”

And when she falls, she doesn’t stay down long. She bounces back, and keeps moving. I asked her about the falls on Saturday, and she laughed.

“Why I fall?” she said, “I'm like the clumsiest athletic person you'll ever meet. I don't know, I just can't catch my balance sometimes, or sometimes I try to sell a foul that they don't call. I mean, that's like mostly why I'm on the ground all the time. Yeah, trying to sell the foul. Got to act it out.”

She laughed.

But this is a serious truth: Her toughness is no act. And her ability to get back up should not be overlooked.

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