CRAWFORD | Final Four frustration shouldn't overshadow Louisville's shining season
The loss hurt, but Jeff Walz and the Louisville women's basketball program fulfilled their Final Four promise.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDRB) – You can’t really say anything when people are hurting. At the University of Louisville, fans are feeling the pain. Just look at my Twitter feed. Players? My goodness, it was a devastated locker room after a 73-63 overtime loss to Mississippi State in the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four.
But I was impressed that the Louisville women took a deep breath and talked, insightfully, about the loss. Do you know how often players in that situation stare at the floor? Mutter barely audible three-word responses? There was none of that with this group, and I think it points to some character beyond the basketball court.
Sam Fuehring was fuming. She was whistled for a technical foul with 2:37 to play in a national semifinal, after being called for a foul that could have gone either way, that she said she thought was going the other way. Tearia McCowan, Fuehring said, had an arm in her throat. She got frustrated. She lost her cool.
“She bent me backwards,” Fuehring said. “. . . It didn’t seem fair at all. . . . But this was a great season for us. I will remember all of it.”
Myisha Hines-Allen, tears still on her cheeks, could only shake her head at the tough-luck layup she missed at the end of regulation that would’ve put Louisville in the national championship game and put her name into the history books.
Here’s the thing. Her name is already in the Louisville women’s basketball history books. She didn’t need the layup. She got bumped on the shot, will probably see it in her head a thousand times in the coming years. After the game, she said she guessed she should’ve sold the contact on the shot better. But then Jazmine Jones came in right behind her, and laid the put-back softly on the rim. If it falls, she’s a hero, she makes SportsCenter. It rolled off. It went overtime.
Come on. Can Louisville get one break?
An immutable law of sports is this: You can’t get your heart broken if you’re not in the big games.
I wondered what Jeff Walz told his players after they played Mississippi State to a draw in regulation, after they played well enough to win, only to make a couple of mistakes, get some bad breaks at the end.
“This is part of life,” he said he told them. “Athletics, man, it sucks sometimes. There’s good and there’s bad. We’ve had some good and now we had some bad. But you can’t let one game define you as a person or define your season. They fought. . . . I feel bad for my kids and my staff, the amount of time they put into this. But I’m so proud of them. It’s been a wonderful season, not just for the wins and losses, but for the young women we had. They’re wonderful ambassadors for our university and our city.”
It may not feel like it tonight, but Louisville women’s basketball took a step this season. It took a step because it achieved sustained success over the course of an entire season. It won a regular-season championship in the ACC. It benefited from one of the best players in the nation in Asia Durr, but it was far more than Durr, and far more than even Hines-Allen.
It’s even a step for this program that fans were railing about Walz, second-guessing his late-game decision not to give a foul to burn time after Mississippi State inbounded down three with 11 seconds left. The Bulldogs ran a quick screen and hit a three-pointer just four seconds later.
Walz said the players had been instructed to foul, but only after MSU had gotten into its offense. He gave MSU credit for running quick action to get a shot. He said he wasn’t going to try to foul to avoid a three-point try in any event. He feared McCowan getting an offensive rebound. And at any rate, he had two layup tries for the win. They just didn’t go.
“We wanted to foul, but at the same time, McCowan had 25 rebounds,” Walz said. “If we could foul with 9 or 10 on the clock and let them throw it back out, we would. But we weren’t going to foul on the final possession. We were going to switch everything, give the a layup but not a three. But it just didn’t work out. . . . We had some miscommuication on the shot, but she hit a big shot. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Give them credit. It was a pressure shot, and they made it.”
MSU pulled away in overtime. Louisville went just 1-for-10 from the field.
“Everybody points to one play,” Walz said. “I can point to a half-dozen in the first half. . . . It’s one play here and there. They start to add up.”
The Bulldogs had 11 first-half field goals. Ten of them were layups. Louisville got into early foul trouble. Walz questioned the officiating, but wouldn’t get into any detail.
“I can’t comment on much,” he said. “I’ll get in trouble.”
Of Fuerhing’s technical he said, “I’d slap the floor too. I mean. . . . If she said something to the refs, then sure. But she slaps the floor playing hard and battling with 2:42 left in the game, I think that’s time to walk over and calm her down and tell her that’s enough. But unfortunately that didn’t happen. . . . Like Bob Huggins said, I’d love to have officials go up and take questions after a game, because I’d love to know what that answer would be. It’s disappointing.”
In the end, though, what can you do? You congratulate the other team. Walz and MSU coach Vic Schaefer talk often during the regular season. They embraced in the tunnel as Walz left the press conference podium.
“I’m happy for him, and that’s a great team that has had a great season,” Walz said. “I just hurt for our kids. I really do.”
Somebody asked him about Hines-Allen.
“You’re looking at a kid who scored over 2,000 points and pulled down 1,000 rebounds,” Walz said. “We’ve only had one other player that’s done that – Angel McCoughtry. She’s right up there. I couldn’t be more proud of her. But what I’m going to miss is seeing her in practice every day. I’m going to miss her.”
They asked Asia Durr about her. She choked up. "I'm sorry," she said. "I can't talk."
Then she found the words. "When I first got here, she did so much for me. My first year was so hard for me. She's the one who brought me through, took me underneath her wing, and she's done so much for our program. She's a great person, and she played her butt off tonight. I will miss her a whole lot."
I don’t know if it’s better, or worse, or irrelevant that a Notre Dame that Louisville beat twice – and blew out by 33 – knocked off Connecticut to advance to the NCAA title game.
That, perhaps, underscores just how good this Louisville team was. And illustrates how painful the loss was.
And, most of all, shows how far the program has come.
Now it will be the job of Durr and the others -- only one starter from this team is lost -- to keep it there. And it will be the job of the university leadership to keep Walz here, should that become a question in the near future.
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