CRAWFORD | You could tell: Louisville women fulfill Final Four promise
The University of Louisville women's basketball team showed championship promise all season. On Sunday, it delivered in the Lexington Regional finals to earn the program's third Final Four berth.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – You could tell about this team, early on. Coach Jeff Walz could tell. That’s why he never let off the gas with this group. That’s why he got caught blurting out an expletive in the huddle during ESPN’s Regional Final broadcast Sunday, reminding his players, “This is why you put up with all my (expletive) for four (expletive) years.”
This is why.
The smiles from the top of the ladder. The smiles in the middle of the game. The net around their necks. The chance to be not just a good team, but a dominant one. This is why you endure a couple of speed bumps, the long afternoons of February, slogging through an Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title and an ACC Tournament title.
You put up with it for the chance to beat a Stanford program that has been to seven of the past 11 Final Fours by 26 points. And for the chance to do what the University of Louisville women’s basketball team did Sunday – to sprint past tournament Cinderella Oregon State 76-43 to secure the program’s third trip to the Final Four.
If it looks sometimes like they don’t break a sweat, you should see the sweat they left in the practice gym at home.
About this group, you could tell early on. I’ll be honest, that’s why I came back from the first game of theirs I covered this season and wrote, “this team has all the components of a championship team.” You can look it up.
All of those components were on prominent display on Sunday.
Asia Durr played like a candidate for National Player of the Year. She was voted the regional’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring 18 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists.
In the huddle before the game, as well as in practice the day before the game, Oregon State coach Scott Rueck told his players, “Asia is going to come off screens like you haven’t seen yet. . . . She can go either way, she sets it up well, she’s going to come off a ball screen and she’s going to rise into her shot. It hits fast, and you don’t see it very often, but it hits that hard.”
Durr is a great athlete and a gifted shooter and scorer. But that’s not enough. Cutting hard matters. Coming off screens hard matters. Lately, this Louisville team is doing the things that matter.
Myisha Hines-Allen had a slow start, because of early fouls. She didn’t have her usual dominant rebounding game (three boards matched a season low). But she had one of the key plays of the entire game. She got the ball on the right wing, faked a jump shot, got Oregon State leading scorer Marie Gülich leaning, drove with her right hand to the rim and, as she went up to make a layup, got enough contact from Gulich to draw her third foul early in the third quarter. From that point on, it was an avalanche for Oregon State, and Hines-Allen was instrumental in closing the door, scoring 11 of her 16 points after halftime. She also had three steals and a pair of assists.
Arica Carter ran the team with scary precision. The Cardinals committed only three turnovers in the game, tying an NCAA record for fewest in a game (trivia answer: Durr had all three turnovers, no one else had one.)
Carter made open threes. She rotated for open mid-range jumpers when OSU paid too much attention to Durr.
“AC is just a coach at heart,” Hines-Allen said. “She knows the game. She knows what she has to do for this team to be successful, and I’m just happy that the team is doing so well because it’s testimony to her.”
She finished with 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals.
Jazmine Jones scored only four points but was a defensive force, and her two steals in the backcourt, both of which led to open run-out layups, were second-half demoralizers for Oregon State.
And there was Sam Fuehring, who was so fired up she missed her first two layups, but kept pounding away, helping to shut down one of the game’s top interior players in Gülich, and finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“Sam was outstanding,” Walz said. “You know, you just can't even start with Sam. You've got all of them. Jazmine Jones, she scores four points, and that's all -- if you look at stats, you're like, gosh, she only got four tonight, but defensively she was everywhere. I go back and look at the stats, they were 5-of-13 from three. We held them to five three-pointers. They're averaging eight to nine a game. . . . Kylee Shook comes in and scores four points. Bionca Dunham has an offensive rebound and put-back. Dana Evans hit a three early to help get us going. Everybody who played contributed.”
The Cardinals dished out 21 assists. They outscored Oregon State 24-0 off turnovers. They were this sharp – in the second half, they went 9-for-9 on shots in the paint. At the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, they held Oregon State scoreless for nearly nine minutes.
“When we play like that,” Walz said, “Well . . .”
The dot, dot, dot is what happens this week in Columbus.
“I’ve never gone to just go,” Walz said. “We’re going to take Monday off and then have three hard days of practice to get ready for whoever we play. I’m not going to waste a trip to Columbus to just show up.”
Walz took over a program that had never been to an Elite Eight. The Cardinals now are making their third trip to the Final Four, looking for a third trip to the championship game. Every Louisville player who has played four years under Walz has been to a Final Four.
“I’m so happy for these young women,” Walz said. “They are the ones who are on the court. It’s so much better for a player than a coach. They have worked unbelievably hard for this. They deserve it.”
Over the next few days, you’re likely to see other headlines emanating out of U of L. A new athletic director is expected to be named Monday. Perhaps a new men’s basketball coach on Tuesday.
But don’t forget this story, and these women, who into that landscape just raised another banner to the rafters of the KFC Yum! Center. All that’s left to be determined is what it will say.
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