LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the No. 3-ranked Louisville women’s basketball team tonight against No. 2 Connecticut, it’s about basics. It’s about boring. Cardinals coach Jeff Walz knows he sounds like Captain Obvious when he says it, but it’s about scoring.
I’ve seen people talking about a shrinking talent gap between Louisville and UConn, and that’s fine. Louisville is plenty talented, and UConn is always talented. But I don’t think Walz has had a more talented team, top to bottom, than he took to Storrs, Conn., last season. He had two ACC players of the year.
That team fell behind 19-0.
“We missed shots,” Walz said. “We had open shots and just missed them. And when you play UConn and get an open shot, you have to make it. Because they do.”
Many of the same players get another shot Thursday night in the KFC Yum! Center on ESPN. U of L had sold around 16,000 tickets Wednesday night.
Walz is only worried about his team doing its part. U of L has been steadily good for a while now. It went to a Final Four last season and brought back all but one key player. It may not have the size of some other elite teams, but it has all the weapons Walz needs. Those players, however, have to meet the moment.
What has made UConn so good isn’t just that it has had more talent than anyone else. It’s that Huskies’ coach Geno Auriemma has had great talent at every position. There’s been no weakness, nothing to exploit. You have to beat them straight up. You have to play your best defense, but in the end you’ve got to match their offensive precision to put yourself in position for an upset.
Louisville has lost 17 straight to the Huskies -- including a pair of losses in NCAA championship games.
“You have to score more points,” Walz said. “I know that sounds obvious, but you can’t allow them to go on runs. We’re 0-17 against them since I’ve been here, and some years we played three or four times … and there’s a lot of those games where you can find a four-minute stretch, and it’s a 15-0 run and you’re down. Last year it was the first quarter. When they get up 18, it’s a tough climb back, you feel like you have to score every time you touch the ball, and then get multiple stops, which is very tough against them.
“They came out last year and threw a few punches and put us on our back. Before we knew it, it was 22-3. But at this point, we can’t have that. We have too much experience. We know how good they are, we have a ton of respect for them. We know what they do, and what they’re capable of doing.”
Louisville has Asia Durr, who sat out Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh to rest a sore knee but is expected to be back and in good shape for UConn. It is going to have to have big nights from interior players Sam Fuehring, Kylee Shook and Bionca Dunham. The Cards are going to have to adjust to however the game is officiated and avoid the kind of foul trouble they experienced at Notre Dame earlier this month. And they’re going to have to be efficient on offense, with a low number of turnovers.
“It’s another great UConn team,” Walz said. “Geno’s done a great job. They have good scorers at all five spots. They pretty much play five players with guard skills. . . . We have to try to limit their transition baskets. If you let them run, it can be a long night. Whoever gets the rebound, they can get it and go. . . . They can all go coast to coast. It just changes the dynamic of how you stop the ball in transition.”
Defense is one area where Louisville may well be better than it was a year ago. It has held five straight opponents – including No. 22 Florida State – under 50 points.
Walz does not expect a replay of that. But he does say it is an indicator that his team has bought into a group identity.
Louisville is not going to overwhelm elite opponents with individual talent. But it can beat them with team play on both ends.
“We’re continuing to get better,” Walz said. “Defense is something we’ll improve as we go through the season. . . . Our kids have done a fantastic job, and hopefully we’ll keep improving. But I don’t expect to hold UConn under 50, unless most of their kids don’t make the trip. . . . When we can be dialed in and we’re all on the same page, we can be really good. When everybody does their job, we’re pretty darn good. But we’re not the best individuals. We don’t have the best collection of individual talent. We’ve had some kids buy into that the last 2-3 years.”
Basic. Boring. But it’s absolutely the key in a game like this. If Louisville gets open looks from the perimeter, its players have to knock them down, and have the confidence that they can knock them down. Because to win, they’re going to have to make those shots.
Neither coach is overstating the importance of this game. Both want to win. Both know it is a big game for seeding in March. But Walz notes that it doesn’t carry the importance of a conference game at this point, and Auriemma agreed.
“It’s almost like, who doesn’t want to win this game or a game like this?” Auriemma told The Hartford Courant. “But, we were up 25 at halftime last year and that didn’t stop them from going to the Final Four. This is why you play. We beat Notre Dame by 11 last year, and that didn’t stop them from winning a National Championship. I just think this is the way you’ve got to go. You’ve got to play these games and whatever comes out of it, comes out of it.”
For Louisville, the hope is that, at long last when it comes to UConn, that might be a victory.
“I think that (number of tickets sold) speaks volumes not only for our program but their program, and the fans we have of women’s basketball in our city,” Walz said. “But we have to do our part.”
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