Ed Peak: Louisville women are ready for post-season fun

Jeff Walz cutting down the net after winning his team’s first ACC championship last season (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

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.

Asia Durr gets one more run at an NCAA championship (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

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.

Louisville women sock UConn, 17,023 rock the Yum!

Louisville’s Asia Durr is embraced by UConn Coach Geno Auriemma following UofL’s win (top photo). The Louisville bench erupts following one of five 3-pointers by Dana Evans. Below, UofL Coach Jeff Walz thanks the crowd of 17,023 for all the support (Cindy Rice Shelton photos). 

A long time between wins, so many futile efforts, numerous beatings at the hands of UConn over two decades.  Two days before Ground Hog Day, concern and fear about another possible blowout. Been there in many of those 17 straight losses.

The largest crowd to see a women’s college basketball game of 17,023 were on hand at the KFC Yum! Center.

In the past, hang with them for a couple of baskets, throw the ball away a couple of times, and wave goodbye. That scenario quickly coming to mind with UConn jumping out to a 6-2 lead. Here we go again?

Not this time, not with this year’s edition of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Not even with leading scorer Asia Durr being held scoreless in the first quarter, missing all four of her field goal attempts. Not to worry, Jazmine Jones, Sam Fuehring and Dana Evans were taking up the slack, unfazed by the opponent, giving Asia time to find her shooting touch.

No intimidation, no regrets, no coulda, woulda, shoulda’s this time around, a premier performance in front of a national ESPN television audience and a crowd of 17,023 fans at the KFC Yum! Center. Third-ranked Louisville handing second-ranked UConn a 78-69 defeat, their second loss of the season. Improving their own record to 20-1 in the process.

“At the end of the first quarter, Asia was sitting there on the chair and I told her to smile,” said Coach Jeff Walz. “Put a smile on your face. It’s 21-21 and you’ve got great teammates. Embrace that and enjoy it.

“She smiled and said, yes, I do have great teammates. She is so unselfish and special, and that’s what makes her such a good player.”

Durr would warm up quickly in the second quarter, hitting her first 3-pointer in the first 54 seconds. She would follow that up with three more 3-pointers and 14 of her team’s 19 points to give UofL a 40-38 lead at the half. She would lead all scorers with 24 points for the game.

Evans would wind up with 20 points, including five 3-pointers. Fuehring and Jones would each have double-doubles — Fuehring with 10 points and 12 rebounds, Jones with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“It was a huge win for our program,” said Walz. “We haven’t beaten them in 26 years and they’re 206-5 over the past four seasons. Think about that. I’m excited to be 55-4 over the same stretch. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do so, yes, it’s a huge win for our program.”

UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, unaccustomed to losing basketball games, was in a state of shock at the post-game press conference, saying his two-loss team had a lot to learn. “We made a lot of mistakes tonight and Louisville took advantage of every one of them,” he said. “We struggle with teams that have the size and quickness that Louisville has.”

Auriemma said UofL players play well together, they know their roles and play good defense. “Jeff has built a tremendous program here,” he concluded.

Photo gallery by Cindy Rice Shelton:

Walz impressed by Louisville champs, on and off the court

In top photo, Myisha Hines-Allen and Sam Fuehring celebrate along with Coach Jeff Walz. Above, Sydney Zambrotta, Sam Fuehring, Asia Durr, Jessica Laemmle and Arica Carter with more of the same following their NCAA regional championship win at Rupp Arena [Cindy Rice Shelton photos].
Coach Jeff Walz welcomes Asia Durr after she departs the game with 18 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

A special group of young women, with players getting along great together, adding one milestone after another, deserving everything they earn.

Before Jeff Walz arrived at the University of Louisville 11 seasons ago, the women’s basketball program had never been to the Sweet 16. He updated the record on Sunday, noting that every four-year player he has coached at UofL has been to the Final Four.

The Louisville women will so0n be hanging still another banner at the KFC Yum! Center in the near future.  A Final Four banner for sure, with still a shot at the ultimate, having already achieved one of the best seasons in the school’s history.

Jeff Walz holding Lucy and accompanied by Lola, her older sister. Those are assistants Stephanie Norman and Samantha Wiliams in background (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The Cardinals continued their impressive run in the 2018  NCAA Tournament with a dominating 76-43 win over Oregon State team in the Lexington Regional at Rupp Arena. A school record 36th win over the season against only two losses.  UofL moves to the Final Four for the third time in Coach Jeff Walz’ tenure.

The dominance was total, with the Cardinals forcing Oregon State into 17 turnovers and making only three themselves . UofL would outscore the Beavers 24-0 on turnovers.  Four of those steals coming in the third quarter when UofL would erupt, extending a seven-point halftime lead to 30 points.

Nobody wears that Final Four hat quite like Myisha Hines-Allen (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Louisville would also hold the Beavers, who were averaging nine 3-pointers a game, to only five in this one, and limiting them to only 15 field goals. Oregon State wrapped up the season with a 26-8 record.

Four Cardinals scored in double figures, led by 18 points from Asia Durr, the regional’s Most Outstanding Player.  Myisha Hines-Allen scored 16 points and made three steals. Sam Fuehring scored 14 and Carter added 10. Jazmine Jones scored all four of her points during that explosive third quarter.

 While Walz was thrilled with the effort, he said he was even more impressed with his team’s performance off the floor. “We truly do have young women who are wonderful role models to my children,” he said, pausing to gather himself. “That means more to me than winning basketball games.

“When my daughter is out there in the yard and tells me she’s Lola Hines-Allen, my other daughter tells me she’s Lucy Durr, and she tells mom ‘You’re going to be the official.’ The impact our players have on their lives means everything to me.

“It’s a wonderful experience to get back to the Final Four, and I want to thank the players for being the kind of people they are.”

Louisville women escape Virginia but Jeff Walz awaits

All games don’t need to be this hard, like the University of Louisville women’s basketball team trailing by 13 points at the half, needing a desperate second half rally before outlasting Virginia 86-81 in overtime at Charlottesville.

Myisha Hines-Allen keeps slow-starting UofL within striking distance in the first half.

Coach Jeff Walz not pleased with how his team started the game, apparently requiring him to raise the decibel level in the locker room at the half. After the win, a relieved Walz lamented that some players needed to expend more energy, play with more heart, and invest in the team — rather than just putting in their time.

Although Cardinals have won two of their last three games, they have struggled early, needing to overcome deficits in games against Syracuse, Duke and Virginia. The coach concerned about the slow starts, the lack of intensity, and the cumulative effect of the less than convincing effort.

Obviously not a problem with Myisha Hines-Allen who, with 13 points and six rebounds in the first half, was keeping Louisville in the same gym with Virginia. She would finish the game with a career-high 31 ponts and 17 rebounds before fouling out in overtime with 1:45 remaining in overtime.

Mariya Moore was making 23 points, including four 3-pointers, along with six rebounds and  three assists. Asia Durr was making only two of 11 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, finishing with 16 points and three rebounds.

Transfer Taylor Johnson would hit two key free throws to give UofL a four-point lead with 20 seconds remaining in the overtime. Jazmine Jones would add a couple of more to ice the win with six seconds remaining.

Jeff Walz not awarding any participation trophies

Cornee Walton (left) comes to the aid of Asia Durr after Asia suffers a cramp in Thursday's game against Maryland ( Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Cornee Walton (left) comes to the aid of Asia Durr after Asia suffers a cramp in Thursday’s game against Maryland ( Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The heart of the schedule has arrived for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team and the Cardinals are learning some hard lessons. The latest a 78-72 loss to Maryland.

UofL showed some grit in rallying from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarters to twice take the lead. Didn’t faze Maryland, with Brenda Frese chalking up her third win against former assistant Jeff Walz in four tries. 

Briahanna Jackson had a busy night with 8 assists, 3 steals, 5 rebounds and 9 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Briahanna Jackson had a busy night with 8 assists, 3 steals, 5 rebounds and 9 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

A disappointed Jeff Walz would question his team’s heart and desire to win. “Personally I hate losing more than I like winning,” said Walz. “Young people today are used to just showing up getting participation trophies just for playing. Just showing up is going to get you beat.”

With Asia Durr leading the way, UofL would build a 24-20 lead at the end of the first quarter.  She was open early and often, scoring 17 of her team high 20 points in the first 20 minutes, keeping her team within four points of the visiting Terrapins at half time.

Miserable shooting night for the rest of the Louisville women who could make only 31 of 79 (33.3%) field goals attempts. Shot after shot falling short of the rim most of the night.  Maryland, meanwhile, was 25 of 54, or a 61.5% clip.

The Cardinals were outrebounded 48-35 by the smaller Terrapins and could connect on only 6 of 14 free throw attempts.

Myisha Hines-Allen, picked pre-season ACC player of the year, regained some of her shooting form in the second half, winding up with 16 points. 

Nobody questioning Briahanna Jackson’s desire to win. She would have eight assists and three steals while contributing 9 points.

After six straight wins to open the season, UofL has lost two straight and is staring down the muzzle of a loaded Kentucky team on Sunday. The Wildcats are 8-1 and have won five straight games over UofL and six out of the last seven in the series.