GREENSBORO, N.C. (WDRB) – This was not how Jeff Walz drew it up in the locker room before the University of Louisville women’s basketball team opened its postseason Friday night in the ACC Tournament.
He did not envision his team giving up 34 points in the paint to Clemson through three quarters. He didn’t include allowing 71.4 percent shooting in the first quarter. He didn’t tell his players, “Let’s try trailing entering the fourth quarter for a change.”
In fact, at one point in the second half, he didn’t say anything.
“I just told them, is this what you want to do? Play one game here and go home and get ready for the NCAA Tournament,” Walz said. “Then I just let them respond, and they started communicating with each other and got it worked out.”
Credit Clemson for a hard-nosed, hard-working, floor-slapping, confident effort. But credit Louisville for winning anyway, outscoring the Tigers 21-7 in the fourth quarter to advance to Saturday’s ACC quarterfinals with a 75-67 victory.
“Obviously the outcome is not what we wanted and not what we were fighting for, but they're pretty dadgum good,” said Clemson’s Amanda Butler, the ACC coach of the year. “We got beat by a really good team, really good staff. But I don't think we have anything to hang our heads about. Really proud of our effort. . . . We’re the ugly ducklings and Fighting Tigers and we did a lot of good things today. . . . But as much as we just -- we like to say we're just trying to be us -- Louisville was just Louisville and played great defense when it mattered most. . . . They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country, as well.”
The win improves Louisville to 28-2 on the season. And it keeps them winning, for the ninth time in their past 10 postseason games.
And it underscored a truth that Walz has been preaching all season – while his team is pretty good when it plays together, there’s a significant dropoff when it doesn’t.
“We didn’t do a good job responding to that first punch,” senior Arica Carter said. “. . . We know we’re a really good team when we all do our jobs. But when we don’t, bad things can happen. We just had to adjust and pick ourselves up and do the right things. And if we did that, we felt confident we would win.”
Communication was the key, and Louisville’s offensive players doing a better job of slowing Clemson’s dribble-penetration to the basket. The Tigers managed a layup line in the first quarter and kept driving with good results in the second and third.
On the other end, Louisville settled for jump shots, though when it did get the ball into the lane, its results were positive.
“I thought Clemson outplayed us for three quarters,” Walz said. “I thought their effort was better than ours. There were a few plays where they had four players on the ground and until Mykasa Robinson came in the game we didn't see the floor; we just bent down and tried to pick it up. . . . Clemson just did a really nice job of coming out and attacking us. It's like I said, they put that thing on the floor. They shoot 15 free throws to our nine. But in the fourth quarter we finally started to give that effort defensively and we started talking. There were several times where we gave up -- just a dribble handoff, and we didn't communicate. Two went with one and somebody went down and shot a layup. And I'm sitting over there going, I can't coach that. I don't know what to tell them because we've talked about it the entire year.”
Louisville is giving up 54 points a game in ACC play. It had allowed 60 through three quarters. But in the fourth, the Cards scored the first six points to tie the game, and you could see the confidence begin to come around. Dunham grabbed six rebounds in the first eight minutes of the quarter, and Fuerhing played her best defense of the game, challenging Clemson’s interior scorers without fouling, and ranging out for four of her game-high 14 rebounds.
On the perimeter, Louisville defenders did a better job checking the dribble-drives, and forcing jumpers instead of allowing layups.
Now, Walz is hoping his team will regroup quickly and open Saturday’s game with a bit better mental approach.
“I told them, whatever you did to get ready for this game, do something different, don’t do that again. It was bad,” Walz said. “But the thing about this team is, they know it. And they’ll make the adjustment and we’ll come out much better.”
Asia Durr led the Cardinals with 24 points but needed 30 shot attempts to do it. Dana Evans added 15 points off the bench, while Carter had 10 and Fuehring and Dunham had eight each.
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