LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Everybody (at least in Louisville) is going to point to fouls and officiating after Louisville played a pretty well handcuffed second half in Thursday night’s 82-68 loss to No. 1-ranked Notre Dame.
But foul disparities happen. News flash: Home teams shoot more free throws. And really good home teams, sometimes, shoot a lot more free throws. Those accustomed to watching primarily men’s Division I basketball may be particularly irked when they see some of the crazy stuff that goes on even in high level D-1 women’s games or Division II men’s games, but it happens, and it’s part of life.
If you want to be great, you overcome it. Walz said he would analyze his team’s fouls after Thursday’s loss.
But Louisville has bigger problems than the 29-12 made free-throw discrepancy it experienced on Thursday at the Joyce Center, where Notre Dame has now won 103 of its past 106 games, with the only losses coming to Connecticut.
If you get right down to it, Louisville lost Thursday night’s game, like it lost last season’s national semifinal, because it could not keep a bigger opponent off the offensive glass. In the case of the Final Four last season, it was a great individual effort by Tieara McCowan, whose 13 offensive rebounds led to a 23-12 edge in second-chance points.
On Thursday, Notre Dame outscored Louisville 20-5 on the offensive glass. It rebounded 18 of its 31 missed field goals. Its total rebounding edge was 48-32. Louisville offset that a bit by forcing 18 Notre Dame turnovers, but it still wasn't enough.
Walz has been harping on it with his team. Thursday’s game will reinforce his opinion.
“We gave up too many offensive rebounds,” he said afterward. “We would do a great job on the first shot, and then just didn't turn and put a body on somebody, and that led to a lot of second-chance points. They had 20 second-chance points. . . . We try to rebound the ball above us. The problem is, when you're not the tallest one out there, it's not a recipe for success. You've got to box out and rebound the ball in front of you instead of above you. And that's what took place tonight, and those are things we have been working on, and we're getting better.”
Having bigger players would be nice, but Walz doesn’t need bigger players to be more competitive on the boards. He just needs execution.
Of course, on Thursday, the team’s entire mentality changed as the fouls began to mount. The defense wasn’t as aggressive, and it makes players more passive in the rebounding department, too.
Like in last season's national semifinal, when Mississippi State shot 25 free-throw's to Louisville's seven, the Cardinals wound up with a 39-16 disparity on Thursday, something Walz said he needs to address with his players.
“Unfortunately I think that (foul trouble) was a big part of it,” Walz said. “I kept trying to challenge our kids, you can't worry about it. If you foul out, we foul out. If we have everybody foul out by the fourth quarter, we go home early. You start to get tentative and we just didn't do a very good job defensively in that second half. And (foul trouble) was a part of it. . . . You've got to play. You can't just let someone drive to the basket and score off you. There's no point. . . . You can't pick up silly fouls. And I'm looking forward to going back and watching the game and trying to figure out OK, what can we do to get better to not foul? Because it really put us in a bad spot there in the first half.”
The game wasn’t without some bright spots for Louisville. As you might expect from a veteran team with Final Four experience, the Cardinals were fazed by the environment or the sellout crowd. They weren’t intimidated by the competition. They weren’t even rattled by their foul trouble.
“We just came up a few points short,” Walz said. “I thought our kids played hard. I thought it was a really good basketball game. If you look at the score, you say, ‘Well, it was a 14-point game.' If you were there you know it was a two-point game with about 1:45 left. We fought. We had some obvious foul trouble, but we continued to just go out there and grind it out. I was proud of them. It was a 1 vs. 2 game, and I think it looked like a 1 vs. 2 game. You go on the road and play in an environment like this -- it showed we have a lot of room to grow, no question about that. But I'm not going to leave here devastated. It was a game I thought we had a chance to win. Now we've got to learn from this.”
The Cards need to rebound better. They need to continue to develop on the interior. They might’ve seen the emergence of a new weapon in freshman Mykasa Robinson, who played her best on the team’s biggest stage yet.
“She played fantastic,” Walz said. “It's a grind. I've said it all along, especially for freshmen, you're the best player on your high school team, one of the best players in the state, top 50 ranked, and then you get to college and it's a whole new ballgame, and everybody's good. But she's grinding it out every day in practice. She's in there early. She's working on her shot. She's aggressive. And we needed her tonight and she performed. She's able to absorb contact, get other people shots. Her minutes are going to improve, there's no question about it. . . . I was really impressed with her.”
The Cards needed more from Jazmine Jones, who went scoreless and played just 11 minutes. They need to establish Sam Fuehring more on the interior.
But they’re a good team, with a great deal of room for improvement, and some high-profile chances to show it in a marquee league. They’ve also got a visit from Connecticut on the books later this month.
“It's a big game. But the biggest games of the year come in March when you lose and you're finished,” Walz said. “I thought our kids played hard. I’m proud of them. We’ll learn from this and hopefully get better.”
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