By Ed Peak
Jeff Walz is a candidate for “Coach of the Year” honors, Asia Durr for “Player of the Year” and this University of Louisville women’s basketball team is a contender to win a national championship. Until last Thursday I was a little pessimistic. No longer.
The way third-ranked Louisville shredded 10th-ranked North Carolina State convinced me that this team is ready for another long post-season run. Tampa, the site of this year’s Final Four, is a nice place to visit. I’ve been there, and it’s especially nice in early April.
The ACC has proven again to rival the Southeastern Conference for supremacy in women’s college hoops. Notre Dame, NC State, Miami, Florida and Florida State are all quality teams. It’s possible the Irish, the defending national champions, will be a No. 1 seed as well even if they lose in the conference tournament.
Winning the conference tournament or the NCAA will be difficult. But a very tough schedule has the Cardinals well prepared. Non-conference wins over UCONN, Boise State, Arizona State and Kentucky have helped as well. That bitter loss to Mississippi State in overtime in the semifinals is in the back of the mind of these players.
You can bet Durr, Sam Fuehring, Arica Carter and Dana Evans remember the two rushed missed layups as time expired in regulation that would have put the Cardinals in the finals against Muffet McGraw’s Irish, a team Louisville had beaten twice last season.
All that doesn’t matter. What does matter is Louisville needs to play well in the conference tournament to sharpen up for the NCAA’s.
The No. 2 seed Cardinals open conference tourney play Friday against either No. 15 Wake Forest or No. 7 Virginia Tech. My money is on Tech that played the Cards tough in the second half in Blacksburg, Va. in February.
Another NC State matchup could follow in the semifinals and it’s possible a game with Notre Dame, a team the Cards lost to in January in the finals. Foul trouble hurt the Cardinals in that game. And Louisville wasn’t playing with as much confidence then as it seems to have now.
Among the keys will be how Fuehring plays in the middle and controls her emotions. How junior Bianca Dunham scores and rebounds is equally important. If Durr isn’t scoring, she needs to find Carter, Jazmine Jones and Dana Evans. Kylee Shook seems to be progressing in the middle. If Fuehring gets in foul trouble, Shook will have to pick up the slack. Mykasa Robinson and Seygan Robins will provide relief and must contribute.
Time to start clicking on all cylinders, taking advantage of still another opportunity to achieve Jeff Walz’ ultimate goal for this basketball program. Wait till next year has arrived, destiny is staring this team in the face.
As Al McGuire, the late Marquette coach would say. “The last shot has to go in.” Here’s hoping that last shot goes in this time.