Record crowd on Senior Night, but UConn dominant

The Schimmel Family approaches center court for Senior Night ceremonies.
The Schimmel Family approaches center court for Senior Night ceremonies.

A beautiful night at the KFC Yum! Center, all the pieces in place for a milestone in the evolution of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team.A record crowd, with 22,163 fans packing the three levels of the arena.

Hundreds of Native Americans, in all manner of custom dress, dozens of them opting for Louisville T-shirts. At least 1,500 of them from 40 different states, some driving between 800 and 1,000 miles to honor Shoni and Jude Schimmel. Many of them declaring the Schimmel girls heroes, setting an example for their sisters across the country.

Senior Night honoring Shoni, Tia Gibbs, Antonita Slaughter, and Asia Taylor, members of the winningest women’s team in UofL. Each of them having overcome unique challenges, wanting to reverse the trend against the juggernaut known as UConn, a team UofL hadn’t defeated since 1993.

They would jump out of the gate, Asia Taylor good for a jump shot, Shoni with a three-pointer and Sara Hammond with another jumper, the Cardinals out to a 7-0 start, and managed to hold a 16-13 lead at the 14:13 mark. Asia would not score again and Shoni would not hit another three-pointer the rest of the game. The Huskies trailed just three more times after that before an all-too-familiar run for a 12-point lead at the half.

The faster taller, stronger UConn team would out-rebound Louisville 47-30, block eight shots, and turn the Cardinals over 16 times, promptly answering anything resembling a challenge, and finish the regular season with a perfect 31-0 record.

Tia Gibbs led UofL scoring with 16 points, including three three-pointers. Hammond and Shoni Schimmel added 12 and nine points, respectively. The Cardinals finished with a 28-3 mark.

UofL has made progress against UConn in the past eight years, but UConn just keeps getting better, continuing to raise the bar for the Cardinals.

Schimmel’s senior night, anything can still happen

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On November 11, 2010, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team played its first game at the KFC Yum! Center.

The opening game of the season. Packed house, with 22,124 fans. Angel McCoughtry’s jersey would be retired that night, two seasons after leading UofL to the national championship game. Things had gone downhill the previous year, multiple injuries and 14-18 won-lost record. These Cardinals needed a boost.

The night would begin a new era, not only in facilities, but because it would be Shoni Schimmel’s first ever as a Louisville Cardinal. A Native American phenom from Mission, Oregon, one of the few freshmen to ever start in her very first game at UofL.

Not a pretty start. Her first seven passes were way wide of their targets — eight turnovers in the first half, no points, no assists during those first 20 minutes. She would recover somewhat during the second half, committing only one turnover while making three assists scoring nine points (including her first three-pointer) in a 63-50 loss to Tennessee.

Over the next four seasons, she would score 2,027 points to rank second behind only McCoughtry in the program, become the all-time UofL leader with a total of 366 three-pointers, and be credited with 569 assists. She also has led her team to three NCAA appearances, including the national championship game last season.

Anything and everything, mostly good, can happen when Shoni Schimmel gets the ball. Just ask her teammates, the recipients of her no-look passes, forcing them to be ever alert. Against Memphis earlier this season, she hit eight straight three-point shots, totaling nine for the game.

Four years and 135 games later, Shoni will be appearing in her final regular season home game Monday night against top-ranked and undefeated UConn. It’s Senior Night for Shoni and three teammates — Tia Gibbs, Antonita Slaughter and Tia Gibbs — and they have reason to believe anything is possible.

Rick and Ce Ce Moses Schimmel, the parents of Shoni and Jude, in town for Senior Night. (File photo)
Rick and Ce Ce Moses Schimmel, the parents of Shoni and Jude, in town for Senior Night. (File photo)

UConn women continue to own Louisville

The UConn women’s basketball team remains undefeated after 26 games, having been seriously challenged in one of those games — an 11-point win at Baylor in January.

Other than Duke, no other team had come within 22 points of UConn until Sunday. The University of Louisville women managed to hang within 17 points in an 81-64 loss on UConn’s home court.

Almost respectable but no hints of a moral victory for the UofL women,who saw their 16-game winning streak come to an end and experienced only their second loss in 25 games.   UConn was missing shots early, but the Louisville women were unable to hit their own, making mistakes and turnovers, UConn making them pay time after time in the second half.

If they were ever going to pose a serious challenge at UConn, it would have been with a veteran lineup that included four seniors and a junior.

Shoni Schimmel taking what the UConn defense allowed in the first half, which wasn’t much. Getting frustrated in the final 20 minutes, hoping those over-the-shoulder shots go in, few of them getting close. She had nine points, including one three-pointer.

Asia Taylor probably playing her best game as a Cardinal, but she was still turning the ball over six times.  Unveiling a new shooting acumen, she would connect of seven of 14 shots for 18 points. She would also collect eight rebounds, make three blocks, two steals and three assists.

With all the attention Shoni was getting, Sara Hammond was finding herself open often. Unfortunately, would make only four of 10 shots, winding up with 11 points and six rebounds.

The positive aspect may have been that Cardinals never lost their composure in this game, contrary to many previous efforts against the Huskies. If they had been shooting anywhere close to their shooting average of 46.9%, the Huskies may have been vulnerable. Sunday they hit only 24 of 65 attempts, a 36.9% shooting percentage.

This may have been second best chance Louisville will have this season to beat UConn in an effort to end an 14-game losing streak that dates back to the early nineties. The best opportunity will be when they meet again in the last game of the regular season at the KFC Yum! Center on March. 3.

UConn had better bring its A game.

UofL women’s basketball rolling, but UConn still formidable

Among the observer’s favorite teams at the University of Louisville is the women’s basketball team. Rarely miss a game, whether it’s going to the KFC Yum! Center, watching on cable TV or listening on WKRD radio.

The Cardinals are currently 18-1 and ranked fifth in the nation. The sole loss a five-point setback to Kentucky in early December. Not surprising since the game was in Lexington.

This is essentially the same team that made the NCAA championship game last April, earning the nickname “Party Crashers” while defeating Tennessee, California and top-ranked Baylor to get there. Not a happy ending, however, with UConn again sticking it to the Cards, 93-60.

Through the first 12 games, the women are averaging 7,825 fans per game at home, compared to 8,704 last season.

One has to wonder just how much still another loss to UConn may have affected attendance for the UofL women’s game this season. Through the first 12 games, the women are averaging 7,825 fans per game at home, compared to 9,513 for the same period last year. Take the UK game (which attracted 15,453 at the Yum!) out of the equation and attendance was still higher, 8,704 per game last season.

The continued losses to UConn have to have had an adverse effect, the fans suspecting that UConn is still far and away a much better program.  That tends to temper any expectations UofL fans may have for their team, despite a top 10 ranking and a sparkling won-lost record.

Don’t look now but there are two games against UConn to be played, the first Feb. 9 on the  road, the second the regular season ending game at the Yum! on March 3.

White outs, pink outs and $2 beers are nice attention-getters, but the only thing that may convince fans that UofL is a serious contender for a national championship will be a win over UConn. That just might possibly require pulling back the curtain and opening the upper level at the KFC Yum! Center.

Louisville withstands Olliewood drama, 76-64 over UConn

One of the best things about the University of Louisville’s 76-64 win over UConn Saturday is that all the talk about signature wins over quality opponents will go away.  UConn was a great opponent playing on its home court.

The last regular season game between the men’s team at Storrs, Conn., will be remembered for a lot of reasons, among them the abrupt departure of UConn Coach Kevin Ollie, going ballistic over what he perceived to be a foul. Video replays clearly indicated that the shooter had attempted to initiate contact with Wayne Blackshear after the play was all but over.

The atmosphere in Gampel Pavilion would take a virulent turn, noxious and poisonous, potentially game changing.  So toxic that Blackshear, an 83% free throw shooter, would miss both of his technical free throws. Perhaps intimidated by the intense reaction of the UConn coach and fans.

UConn was either going to erupt or go away altogether. Things could have gone south quickly for many visiting teams in similar circumstances.

Russ Smith would not be intimidated, however, having been through a few traumatic events during his career, stepping calmly to the line, sinking both shots, setting the tone, declaring there would be no backing down. Between all those turns on and off the bench , Russ would score 18 of his 23 points in the second half to lead all scorers.

Montrezl Harrell, who apparently enjoyed all the aforementioned drama, would play 39 minutes, having the game of his career, hitting almost everything he hurls toward the basket, eight of 10 attempts, for 18 points, permeating the back board for 13 rebounds while blocking three shots. Not disappearing this time against a “quality” team, choosing to stick around in a dominating performance.

Luke Hancock, the best at attracting fouls on offense, brings order when he’s on the court, somehow finding his way between defenders in the lane, old-fashioned stuff, making it work for him. Turning in 13 points, managing five rebounds.

Terry Rozier, at times resembling a former point guard, just managing the action, taking care of the ball, foregoing shots, providing a calming presence on offense, constant pressure on defense. His calming presence not reflected in stats that reveal only one assist, two steals and a turnover — except that he had seven rebounds. A shooter not forcing shots, putting the best interests of the team first.

Mangok Mathiang, looking at times like with predecessor with those three blocks, but not hitting the boards much, managing only two rebounds. One step at a time.

Louisville has won seven of the past eight games against UConn. They will meet again in the last regular season game of the season, March 8, at the KFC Yum! Center. UofL will no doubt still be needing another quality win at that point.