CRAWFORD | One win from the Final Four, Louisville women know the drill vs. Oregon State
The Louisville women's basketball team will face an upstart team like it was in its 2013 run to the national title game, but Cardinals' coach Jeff Walz hopes he has the squad to stop Oregon State's momentum.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Jeff Walz has seen Oregon State from inside its own locker room. No, he doesn’t have an illegal monitoring device tracking the Beavers.
But he has brought an underdog team into the Elite Eight and slayed women’s college basketball giants, riding the wave of momentum into the Final Four and even the national championship game. He did it with a No. 5 seed in 2013, shocking Baylor and then surprising Tennessee as a No. 5 seed.
Oregon State has done much the same this year. It knocked off Tennessee in the round of 32, the first visiting team ever to beat the Volunteers in Knoxville in the NCAA Tournament, where Tennessee had been 57-0 coming into the game.
Then, Friday night in Lexington (after a flight back to Corvallis, Ore., for exams), Oregon State knocked off No. 2 seed Baylor, ending its 30-game winning streak.
So Walz and his Cardinals will encounter a team of destiny on Sunday at noon in the Lexington Regional Final with a trip to the Final Four in the balance.
“They’re really confident, because they’re really good,” Walz said. “That makes them dangerous.”
Walz should know. He has played that card to pretty successful results. Now he has the No. 1 seed, a team that started the season good and has been good – and at times great – all season. His team has won 10 games in a row, beaten Notre Dame for a second time this season on a neutral court, and has two of the top players in the nation in junior Asia Durr and senior Myisha Hines-Allen.
Scott Rueck, in his eighth season at Oregon State, has the best three-point shooting team in the nation. But that’s not all he has. Oregon State has one of the breakout players of the NCAA Tournament in 6-5 senior Marie Gülich, a native of Cologne, Germany, who had 26 points and nine rebounds in the win over Baylor and who averages 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds on the season.
“We haven't really faced a post player with her size that's able to move, who has such great footwork,” Hines-Allen said.
“IQ,” Louisville forward Sam Fuehring interjected.
“Yeah, and that can pass the ball extremely well,” Hines-Allen said. “But we're ready. We're ready for the challenge, me, Sam, Bionca (Dunham) and Kylee (Shook). We're ready all to dial it in and help our team in any way we can.”
Alongside Gülich, Oregon State has 6-foot sophomore guard Kat Tudor, whose 4-of-8 three-point shooting and 16 points helped put Baylor away.
She is shooting 41.2 percent from three-point range and has made a team best 84 shots this season from beyond the arc, one of four Oregon State players who have made at least 30 threes. Three of them shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range, including Aleah Goodman (47.1 percent off the bench) and Katie McWilliams (47.1 percent).
Their ability to put pressure on defenses inside and out is what Walz spent a long night worrying about after he returned to the team hotel somewhere after 1 a.m. Saturday morning following the Cards’ win over Stanford.
“Scott does a great job of making sure he's got -- normally four shooters out on the floor at one time,” Walz said. “We don't have four shooters, per se, to throw out there, so we're going to try to use a little bit more athleticism, try and get the tempo of the game more in our favor. I thought Scott did a remarkable job of controlling the entire game last night against Baylor. I thought the game was played at his pace, at their pace. They slowed it up when they wanted to. Very seldom did you see a shot go up with 16 or 17 left in the shot clock. They normally got a quick score, which they got a few of them, or they made you guard for 19, 20 seconds, and then that's when it becomes difficult because the more cuts they get the chance to make, the harder it is to make sure you're keeping track of the ball and your man.”
To counter, Walz will look to use defensive pressure, to force turnovers at multiple positions, to count on his team’s quickness and athleticism to pose problems for Oregon State.
“Louisville hits you in a lot of different ways, and so it's not just one match-up,” Rueck said. “It's a collective force that they play with, and it's intensity that they play with, the speed they play with. That's why they've done what they've done this year. Within that, they certainly have some really special talent. Asia is incredible and Hines is unbelievable. You just go on down the roster. And so they can hurt you in a variety of ways, but I think it's just like our team; they've got five pieces at all times that are working together, and so that's what allows those All-American types to be All-American types. They've got great complementary pieces. They play a team game just like we do, and so they're formidable. Not a lot of sleep last night.”
Not a lot of sleep for anyone. Less than 12 hours after hitting the hotel rooms after Friday night’s win, Louisville players were back for a 1 p.m. media session, followed by two hours of arena availability. Oregon State doesn’t have it much better. The noon tipoff will be at 9 a.m. local time in Oregon.
“We had the chance, the staff, we went through some film late last night once we got back to the hotel, so it was a late night for us,” Walz said. “But the players, as soon as we could get them out of here, we got them out. We got them back. They all said they slept good, so that was encouraging. We watched some film again this morning, went through a scouting report. We'll go out here today in practice and just walk through things. It's not going to be anything intense. You know, whatever we are, I mean, 30 something and 2, we're 36, 37 games into the season. If you don't know what to do by now, we've got problems.
“So I think we can verbally tell them this is what we need to do, show them on film, and then go out and execute. You know, sometimes early in the year you need more reps to be able to get a good understanding of what your opponent is trying to do, but now I think we can get some reps out there on the floor today, but it's not something where we're going to go out there for an hour and a half and practice real hard. We need fresh legs.”
But Walz knowns his players are focused on the game plan he is giving them, and on the job ahead.
“We’ve been working all year to be ready for these kinds of games,” Hines-Allen said. “I expect us to play well.”
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