Women’s basketball season preview

By on November 13, 2013

By Sam Draut

 

The University of Louisville women’s basketball team garnishes lofty expectations

this season after returning a majority of their roster from last season’s run to the NCAA

National Championship game.

The Cardinals are ranked fifth in the preseason AP poll largely based on the returning

group that has eight players that have started games during their careers.

U of L returns 89 percent of their points scored and minutes from last year and 94

percent of their rebounding from a year ago.

“I do believe we have the best team we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Jeff Walz said. “It’s

all about how we grow as a team, how we come together as a team, and how we are willing

to put individual accolades on the side to do what’s best for this 2013-14 group, which is

what we have done in the past, so I don’t expect anything to change from that.”

Senior guard Shoni Schimmel was named to the pre-season Wooden Top 30 List. Last

season she averaged 14.2 points per game and was named Most Outstanding Player for the

Oklahoma City Regional.

“I’m expecting a great year from her, she has been practicing extremely well, her

knowledge of the game, it has been a four year evolution for her,” Walz said. “She knows

exactly what we are trying to do.”

Senior guard Antonita Slaughter hit big shots during the tournament run last season, she

finished the year averaging 10.1 points per game and shooting 35.8 percent from three.

“Antonita Slaugther shoots the ball as well as she does, I have told her ‘you can’t expect to

be left open this year,’ there is going to be some challenges for her, but she has worked on

putting the ball on the floor. She has improved her all-around game,” Walz said.

Junior forward Sara Hammond was the team’s second leading scorer last season averaging

10.8 points per game and also led the team with 6.4 rebounds per game. Hammond’s focus

in the offseason was her mid-range jump shot, an added dimension to her game that she

displayed last year.

“I had a pretty good shot but I wanted to get more consistent with it. So it was a

challenge to myself to get in the gym and shoot 300 to 400 shots a day,” Hammond said.

Junior Bria Smith switched to point guard midway through the year, averaging 9.5 points

and 4.3 rebounds per game.

“I’m a combo guard, so either is comfortable to me, I like playing point a lot because last

year we went for a good run, but its where ever I am needed I am willing to play,” Smith

said.

Added to the Cardinals four leading scorers from a year ago, forwards Shawnta’ Dyer,

Asia Taylor and guard Tia Gibbs return from injuries. All three players have started games

in their Cardinal careers.

Taylor sat out last season while recovering from a hip injury, but the 6-foot-1 senior adds

depth and athleticism to the front court.

“She brings a lot of athleticism, Asia is the best we have at getting to basic and finishing

from the wing spot. Rebounding wise, she will gives us a big boost on the boards,” Walz

said.

In the 2011-12 season, Taylor ranked second on the team in total rebounds and led the

team in offensive rebounds while averaging 5.6 points per game.

“Asia brings so much to our team, versatility on defense and offense, she can shoot the

outside shot, she can take it to the basket,” Hammond said. “She knows how to finish with

contact. Having her experience as a 5th year senior is going to provide a lot of leadership to

our team.”

Gibbs returns to the court after a long battle with injuries. She redshirted the 2011-

12 season with a season-ending shoulder injury and sat out the 2012-13 season with a hip

injury.

“The rehab was pretty hard but once I got onto the court it was like I never left, I’m a

little slower on defense getting that rhythm back from sitting out for two years. Everything

else is still great,” Gibbs said.

In Gibbs only full season for U of L, she averaged 8.8 points per game and led the team

with 95 steals.

“Adding Tia Gibbs to the team, coming back from her two years of injury, her leadership

and knowledge of the game, she talks more than any we’ve had in the past four or five years

on the court, she knows what she is doing, she gets her teammates involved, it’s the things

you don’t measure on a stat sheet that Tia does so well for us,” Walz said.

Gibbs returns to a loaded backcourt, junior guard Jude Schimmel brought energy off the

bench last year and was second on the team with 107 assists and averaged 5.7 points per

game.

“Her basketball IQ is as high as anyone I have coached. Jude is a competitor, it is what she

is,” Walz said. “So, I’m expecting big things from Jude this year.”

Sophomore guard Megan Deines started 15 games last season and averaged 4.9 points per

game.

Two newcomers are added to the backcourt this year, sophomores Starr Breedlove and

Monny Niamke.

Breedlove is a junior college transfer from Trinity Valley; she averaged 9.4 points and 6.3

assists per game and won the NJCAA championship.

“She sat out last year so it has been a bit of an adjustment for her. The speed of the game,

she has it in her, but I have got to get her into better shape because she didn’t get here until

late. She shows some glimpses of being able to do some good things for us,” Walz said.

Niamke transferred from Lindsey Wilson and earned freshman of year honors after

averaging 12.5 points per game.

“For Monny to get on the floor, she has to take care of the basketball. She has to be a

distributor and she has to defend. She has to be our best on ball defender. Right now, she

likes to shoot a lot. I don’t need her taking shots, I need her guarding people,” Walz said.

Emmonnie Henderson is the lone freshman on the team. The 6-foot-1 forward earned

all-state honors her junior and senior year of high school in Illinois. She was ranked 40th on

ESPN’s HoopGurlz Top 100 rankings.

“She is strong, physical and athletic, but it is an adjustment for all freshmen. When you

make that jump from high school to college, playing consistently hard is something they

have never had to do and that is what we are trying to get her to understand,” Walz said.

“It has been quite an adjustment, but it is getting there, overall, I love it and I love the

team, everyone has helped me through it. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be the only

freshman and learn from all of them, so I really take it to my advantage to watch what they

do and learn from it. I try to add a power game to this team,” Henderson said.

The Cardinals fought the injuries for much of the 2012-13 season, and despite returning

Gibbs, Dyer and Taylor, the roster is still not completely healthy.

Senior center Sheronne Vails will redshirt this year to rehab her knee that she had

surgery on during the offseason. Vails started in 28 games last season, averaging 4.0 points

and 2.8 rebounds per game.

“She is doing well, she could possibly play if we needed her to in January. But right now,

we sat down and decided the best thing for her would to be to sit out this entire season. She

has done a great job in the weight room, she looks great, so there is a lot of promise for her

for next year,” Walz said.

Sophomore forward Cortnee Walton could see expanded minutes in Vails absence.

Walton, the 6-foot-3 forward appeared in 33 games last year and averaged 2.8 points and

2.5 rebounds per game.

“There are a lot of expectations and finally a lot of healthy players, for us to start a year

with only one player out for the year this the best we have done in six years,” Walz said.

“For us to be healthy, we are excited to get out there and play basketball with the team

we have, just showing people what we are about, we are all healthy, we are all ready to go,”

Shoni Schimmel said.

The Cardinals open up the year with a non-conference schedule that includes a WNIT

tournament and trips to Western Kentucky and Kentucky. Also, U of L will play Florida

State and Colorado at the KFC YUM! Center in non-conference play.

“We are looking at a non-conference schedule that has the potential to be the toughest

we’ve played since we have been here,” Walz said.

U of L will spend one year in the AAC and will continue to fight UConn for conference

superiority.

It’s no secret; you have got to try to compete against UConn right now. They are at the

top of our game, they have been to six straight final fours, it’s not an accident that they do

that,” Walz said. “They are very well coached and they have great players, and that is our

goal right now.”

The Cardinals play in the regular season can potentially set them up for a run in

the NCAA tournament, Louisville and the KFC YUM! Center is selected as an NCAA

Tournament Regional site, meaning that U of L could play in their home arena for two

tournament games, similar to last season.

“Our focus is getting better every day, people focus on the long run, and a good thing for

us is to focus on every single day,” Jude Schimmel said. “It’s always in the back of our mind

to get to Nashville, but our biggest focus is getting better every single day.”

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