CRAWFORD | After win No. 300, a look at Walz's most memorable
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – University of Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz celebrated career victory No. 300 when his Cardinals beat Western Kentucky 102-80 Tuesday night in their season opener in Bowling Green.
Walz would’ve preferred No. 300 to have come last spring in the Final Four, but even so, it’s a remarkable ascent for the 47-year-old Fort Thomas, Ky., native. And it came where his college coaching career began, as an assistant to Paul Sanderford in Bowling Green.
“It was great to see coach Sanderford here doing the game,” Walz said. “He gave me the chance, and I’ll always be grateful. . . . I learned so much from him, how to watch the game and not just worry about each possession. . . . It was awesome to have him here and to win No. 300 in the place I started.”
The Cardinals got 33 points from All-American Asia Durr in the contest, along with 19 points from Arica Carter, 11 from Pittsburgh grad transfer Yacine Diop and 10 from Kylee Shook. They shot 56 percent overall and made 16-34 three-point shots. Half their field-goal attempts came from behind the arc.
It launches another highly anticipated season for the Cardinals, but continues a trend of high expectations Walz has established in the program.
“Man this is our 12th year here,” Walz said. “I’m not sure anybody expected us to make it 12, and I know nobody expected us to make it to three final fours. When I look back on this, and (assistant) Steph Norman has been here with me the entire time, and so has Adrienne Johnson, I can remember when I took the job and met with Tom Jurich and his big thing was, I just want to build a program, get a chance to go the Sweet 16. And now we have expectations that if we don’t get to a Final Four it’s a bad year. It’s changed, but it’s fun. Because if you don’t have those expectations, you probably don’t have a very good team.”
Walz, 12 years ago, took over a Louisville program that had never won 30 games or been to a Sweet 16 and had the Cardinals in the national championship game in his second season. He’s been to the title game twice, the Final Four three times, and in 10 seasons has become the NCAA’s No. 9 winningest active coach by percentage, the No. 11 winningest all-time coach by percentage, and has the seventh-highest NCAA Tournament winning percentage in women’s basketball history.
He also has some of the most memorable games in women’s history – and maybe one of the most memorable losses. Here’s a look at his top 5 wins, and a loss that shouldn’t be forgotten.
5). LOUISVILLE 77, MARYLAND 60, March 30, 2009. This game established Louisville as a legitimate national threat. I remember it because I had a feeling the Cardinals had a chance at the upset, so I left Indianapolis, where Louisville had just lost to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, to get to Maryland in a hurry. I don’t even think I had a hotel room.
How’s this for a busy stretch of days? Friday: Billy Gillispie is fired as Kentucky coach. I sat in the parking lot of Lucas Oil Stadium and wrote a column, then went inside and watched Louisville demolish Arizona. On Saturday, Louisville’s women upset No. 3-ranked Baylor in the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament, and John Calipari’s name started floating with serious intent around the Kentucky job. On Sunday, Michigan State beat Louisville in the Elite Eight. And with the Louisville women facing Missouri in the women’s tournament on Monday, I decided, bleary eyed, to get to Raleigh, N.C., in case they made the Final Four for the first time.
It was a good thing I did. Walz and Angel McCoughtry guided the Cardinals past Maryland 77-60, Walz had beaten his old boss, and Tom Jurich had one of his crowning moments. It had been months since Jurich had spoken with me – I was a little rough on the Louisville football coach at the time – but we spoke briefly at the end of that game.
Louisville would go on to knock off Oklahoma and reach the title game in St. Louis. But breaking through the regional final is always the toughest step for an emerging program. And this was a huge win for Walz and the Cardinals.
4). LOUISVILLE 100, NOTRE DAME 67, Jan. 11, 2018. Louisville joined a handful of teams with legitimate aspirations of threatening Connecticut’s supremacy with this blowout win. I can’t quantify it, but I think the team looked at itself differently after this game.
Notre Dame was the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. (It would go on to win the national title, more on that in a bit). But Louisville was dominant in every way, in front of a crowd of 12,614 and an ESPN audience.
3). LOUISVILLE 86, TENNESSEE 78, April 2, 2013. This was the game after the Louisville women’s most famous victory. Without this win, in the NCAA regional finals, that other win wouldn’t mean quite what it means today.
It was a resounding run. Tennessee was favored. It was a women’s college basketball blue blood. But Louisville blew out to a 20-point lead early in the second half, then held on for dear life.
This wasn’t a Louisville team with championship aspirations. But Walz again showed a mastery of crafting a scouting report to beat an opponent with superior overall talent and size. And the “party crashers” theme swept through the locker room.
“We ruined the entire party!" Walz shouted in his postgame interview on ESPN. "We're the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. Nobody gave us a chance in either of these two games. And we've shocked everybody. Everybody talked about our defense, we just hung 82 on a great Baylor team, then somehow figured out a way to score 85 tonight. We haven't scored like that in three months. I don't know where or how we were able to start making shots like this, but we did."
2). LOUISVILLE 74, NOTRE DAME 72, March 4, 2018. This victory came in the championship game of the ACC Tournament. It might surprise some that I would rank this victory so high, but to win a conference tournament championship in a league that included the eventual national champion – and beat that eventual national champ to do it – shows just how close the program is to its eventual goal.
Winning that trophy was special for Walz. He’d toiled for years in the same league as Connecticut. He’d butted heads with North Carolina and Duke and others in the ACC. To win it was important, to him and the program.
The team went on to make the Final Four, but that conference tournament win was as important a building block for the program as any.
1). LOUISVILLE 82, BAYLOR 81, March 28, 2013. Louisville wasn’t even supposed to be close in this game, let alone win it. Baylor was the most dominant team in the game, and Britney Griner the most dominant player.
Yet Walz somehow willed his young team to believe it could make a bunch of three-pointers, and it did just that. He attacked Griner defensively.
Testament to that belief was Shoni Schimmel scoring over Griner, then getting into her face to talk about it in a highlight that would run on ESPN for the rest of the tournament. The reaction was crazy. Kevin Durant showed up in the team’s locker room in Oklahoma City.
That day was a crazy one for me. I was in the press room at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Louisville had just demolished Duke to reach the Final Four. It also was the Kevin Ware game, and we were all a little stunned at what we’d taken in.
Yet everyone in that press room was transfixed on another game – a women’s game. Louisville was doing something special.
After the game, a captain of that team, Sara Hammond, paid tribute to the coach.
"In order to pull this off, first of all, you have to have a great leader," Hammond said. "We all look to coach Walz as our leader, and he's been there, he's been in that position, and we have 100 percent trust and 100 percent confidence in what he's doing. And some people might think he's crazy when they see him on the sidelines, but that's Coach, and we go with it, and he gets us hyped and he has the perfect game plan. I know a lot of teams, they just stick to what they're used to and what their comfort zone is. He gets us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to go beyond what we think we can do, and it's worked tremendous for us this year. You've just got to give him, I mean, 100 percent -- I mean, I don't even have words for the game plan that he put together. We didn't -- honestly I don't think we believed in ourselves that we could do it, but just the confidence and the belief that he had in us, I mean, you saw it last night how hyped we got. He's a great leader, and we just follow with what he gives us."
He's now done it 300 times. And by all indications, he might pile up the next 300 even more quickly. But I want to make a special note about one of these memorable games that he didn’t win, because even losses can be memorable or of value. It’s not the two championship game losses or the loss in the Final Four last season.
ONE LOSS: CONNECTICUT 68, LOUISVILLE 48, March 10, 2014. This was the last home game for Schimmel, and native Americans came from all over the country to watch. From Alaska, from the Pacific Northwest, from Oklahoma and Texas, from 36 states according to the U of L ticket office. They came in vans and school buses. There were in the KFC Yum! Center, 22,613 of them, to celebrate the career of Shoni and Jude Schimmel.
Without Walz, and his willingness to work with this unique player whose style of “Rez Ball” took plenty of refining before she would lead a time to the Final Four, that moment doesn’t happen.
Fans snaked around half the corridor length of the arena waiting for autographs after the game. HBO brought a film crew to document it.
Connecticut, which won the game, stayed on the court instead of going into the locker room before the game to watch Louisville’s Senior Day introductions, so special did coach Geno Auriemma consider the atmosphere.
Sometimes the games don’t go into the win column. And sometimes, they aren’t about the score.
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