LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I’ve learned and come to appreciate some things about Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz over the years. One of them is that he’s not afraid to lose. He doesn’t like to lose. He doesn’t do it very often. But when his team doesn’t play well enough to win, losing is the natural result, and he’s usually brutally honest about it.
So, after being knocked off for the third time as a top-five team in recent years by Florida State in an uninspiring 68-59 upset in Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday afternoon, Walz was pretty philosophical.
His No. 3-ranked Cardinals likely lost their chance for an outright Atlantic Coast Conference title, though they can still win a share of the title and the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament with a win Feb. 28 at Notre Dame.
Work for that will begin when practice resumes Wednesday. Between now and then, however, will be an important two days for the program's immediate future.
"It is what it is right now," Walz said. "I hope it sits with them and stings for a while. It will with me. That’s the tell-tale sign. If it doesn’t bother our kids much, then we’re not going to have a deep run in the postseason at all. We’ll find out on Wednesday how we come back and compete in practice."
At some point, it’s up to the players. Walz has demonstrated that he can put his players in position to win. Most of the time, they have. Louisville is 20-2. It’s a record any program in the nation would love to have.
Yet the Cardinals still find themselves with something to prove as they approach the postseason.
For one of the rare times this season, the problem Sunday was offense. Louisville just couldn’t make shots. All-American Dana Evans went just 5 of 21 from the field and finished with 13 points. As a team, Louisville shot just 36%, and even more uncharacteristically for a team that had shot 82% from the free-throw line in ACC play, made just 14 of 22 free throws (63%).
The defense wasn’t outstanding, but it was enough to win. The Cardinals probably fouled too much and rebounded too little. But even with their normal offensive game they win on Sunday.
"We scored at home (against FSU) and made shots," Walz said. "Today we had some open looks that we just did not make and we could not get a run going. We got plenty of stops, but we couldn’t get many back-to-back shots to go down. Then we missed each other in transition a few times. Unfortunately, we just did not play well. Give credit to Florida State."
Why that is, Walz couldn’t tell you. The Cardinals know Florida State is a dangerous team, because of their history against the Seminoles. Walz said FSU’s length at the guard spot bothers his team, but it has dealt with that successfully in the past.
During one third-quarter stretch, Louisville held FSU to 2-for-16 shooting. Despite that, the Cards could not extend their lead. It was that kind of offensive day.
Louisville had plenty of motivation. But it seemed to lack energy at times.
"It was a poor performance all the way around, both offensively and defensively," Walz said. "We did not play the team basketball that we’ve been playing. We did not make the extra pass. We took some contested, early shots. ... It’s part of life. You’ve got to learn from it, and we’re going to find out how tough we really are. I’ve explained it over and over to them ... every team we’re playing is fighting for a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. And we’re playing for the outright opportunity to win this league, an we laid an egg. It was a poor performance."
And for this Louisville team that has shown so much promise and even spent time ranked No. 1 in the nation, its postseason fortunes likely hang on how well it responds.
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