LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It doesn’t take long to forget what it was like to be like everyone else. A couple of years, maybe. The University of Louisville women’s basketball program has flown pretty high the past couple of seasons. No. 1 seeds. A Final Four. One of the nation’s top players in Asia Durr.
In the past two seasons, the U of L women lost only seven games total.
Yet somehow, the expectations for the Cardinals without Durr (and Sam Fuehring, and Arica Carter) remain just as high.
Louisville, for the first time since joining the ACC, has been picked to win it in preseason balloting by coaches and media. The Cardinals came in at No. 9 nationally in the AP’s preseason poll, but Walz has higher hopes than that.
“We have a lot of pieces,” Walz said. “We may not have Asia, but we have eight or nine players who can get 15 or 20 points on a given night. I just don’t know if we have one who can get us 47.”
In fact, Walz has so many pieces that he announced on the eve of the Cardinals’ regular-season opener against WKU at 7 p.m. Tuesday that freshman point guard Nyah Green, a freshman McDonald’s All-American who chose Louisville over Baylor, South Carolina and Tennessee, will redshirt this season, as will 6-4 freshman Ramani Parker, a four-star recruit. Walz said the move was made to benefit the players and program “down the road.”
In the present, Louisville has returning ACC sixth player of the year Dana Evans at point guard, but anyone who thinks she was the traditional sixth player didn’t watch her play. She could have started. In fact, she did start the first few games last season, but then started coming off the bench because Walz liked the change of pace she brought. She could’ve been a feature player in the offense. Instead, she came off the bench, though she generally was in games at crunch time.
Now she’s being asked to take on a leadership role for a team expected to contend for a Final Four berth.
“It’s different, and a different feel in practices,” Evans said. “But it’s been good. The attitudes have been really good. The expectations have stayed high for us, and we’re fine with that.”
Jazmine Jones finds herself in the same position. One of two returning starters, she brought offense in spots and athleticism in abundance. But Walz singled her out for the postseason work she has done, saying she has improved her shooting while embracing the role of leader.
Kylee Shook, a 6-4 sharpshooter, has made herself more of a weapon in the post, according to Walz, and senior Bionca Dunham is elevating her game inside.
Guards who saw limited minutes last season, Mykasa Robinson and Lyndsey Duvall, will get their time in the spotlight this year. And Yacine Diop, who transferred in from Pittsburgh last season but was injured and missed the year, is back and will be an offensive threat.
Newcomers abound. Georgia Tech transfers Elizabeth Balogun (ACC freshman of the year) and Elizabeth Dixon were ruled to be immediately eligible and will be instant contributors. Both were double-digit scorers for Georgia Tech.
“I’m expecting Liz and Elizabeth to be impact players for us,” Walz said. “But it’s a big change for them. I joked with them the other day, I think they were 18-13 last year at Georgia Tech, and I told them you guys lost more games in one year at Georgia Tech than we lost the past four combined. (Actually, Louisville has lost 23 in the past four years, 15 in the past 3 and 7 the past two.) So there’s a lot more expectation. But they’re excited about it. At the same time, how are they going to handle it?”
Freshman Norika Konno from Sendai, Japan, has drawn praise from Walz at one guard spot.
“I talked to our team a week ago,” Walz said. “And I explained to them, if you’re trying to go from 1 to 10 in terms of your ballclub, we started at 5 the past few years, because we had so many returning players. Now, with so much new, we’re probably starting at 2, but I still think our end goal is 10. So throughout this first few weeks, you’ll probably see some changes in our starting lineup, tinkering with our substitution patterns, as I try to figure out what’s best for our team.”
Being able to tinker freely – and even to redshirt two highly coveted recruits – is a sign that Walz is dealing from a position of strength, when it comes to talent and depth.
“We’re very fortunate to have talented kids,” Walz said. “It’s not as if we’re experimenting people who can’t play. Everybody on this team has the ability to come in and compete and play.
“We have the same expectations as we’ve had,” Walz said. “Our goal is to be playing our best basketball in March, the way we have figured out a way to do. But we’ve got a longer way to go to get there than we have the past few years. If you can get yourself into a Sweet 16, anything can happen. And that’s our goal. It takes a little bit of luck, a call here or there, and you advance. But you have to perform and beat good teams.”
The task begins Tuesday night in the KFC Yum! Center.
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