By Sam Draut–
This summer wasn’t the first time Louisville head coach Jeff Walz and sophomore Mariya Moore had been on the international scene, but once again, the two returned with gold medals while representing the United States in the FIBA 19-and-under World Championship.
Walz was an assistant under the U.S. Women’s U-19 head coach Dawn Staley while Moore played an integral role on the team. The 6-foot guard averaged 10.3 points, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game and helped to lead the U.S. to a perfect 7-0 record.
“Mariya was one of our best passers on the team. She did an unbelievable job of getting the ball to our players who were open and who had the hot hand. And she understands that it’s not about scoring 20. She scored six points in the gold medal game but played 38 minutes. She wasn’t on the floor to have to worry about scoring,” Walz said.
“She is a competitor. She is strong,” Walz said. “I was really proud how she handled herself, how she played, how she represented our university.”
Moore hit a team best 11 three-pointers and shot 47.7 percent from the field. After being named an Associated Press All-American honorable mention and averaging a team high 13.4 points per game last season, Moore’s role will continue to expand this season.
“She was voted one of the co-captains on that team, so I think there were some players she was playing with that could see she has some leadership abilities,” Walz said. “She wants to win, and I think that’s where I saw a lot of her growth.”
With such a high level of physical conditioning, Walz said he doesn’t worry about Moore wearing down after the long summer of basketball abroad. She was able to take two weeks off before returning to Louisville for the fall semester. Traveling to Spain and Russia, the 27 days away from the United States were not only a tremendous learning experience for Moore.
Going into his ninth season as the head coach of Louisville, Walz picked up a few things as well. Similar to the international game, the NCAA women’s basketball has moved to four ten minute quarters. In the international game, the quarters change the way the team played.
“It was very seldom, with your five fouls per quarter before you get to shoot your free throws, they would not let you shoot a wide open layup. They would foul you and make you set it up again until you got to the bonus,” Walz said. “So if there’s six minutes gone in the first quarter and you steal one, they are going to foul you if you’re not in the bonus already and make you set it up and score in the half court. Whereas when you’re playing two 20 minute halves and you go to the bonus a lot earlier all the sudden you can’t do those things. So there is a lot of strategy I enjoyed watching and picked up some things we can do here also.”
Additionally, Walz said he was impressed by the offensive sets the Russian team ran throughout the tournament and plans to implement a few different things he saw other teams do.
While Walz and Moore were abroad, the rest of the team didn’t miss a beat. Walz stayed in constant contact with the assistant coaches and heard about great effort on the recruiting trail as well as current players working hard.
“They have been doing great. Their attitudes have been extremely good. Their effort has been fantastic,” Walz said. “It’s going to be fun group to coach. I enjoy being around them. They are good kids with good personalities. They are self-driven and that is one thing as a coach you’re always trying to find players that are self-driven, self-motivated. They want to be out there playing. They want to be practicing, and I think that is what is going to make this team so special.”
One Cardinal who will not be participating in basketball this season is junior Emmonnie Henderson. After an outstanding track season this spring, she decided to focus her efforts this coming year solely on track in hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
With only two experienced front court players returning, junior Cortnee Walton and sophomore Myisha Hines-Allen, Henderson’s absence this year does alter the depth of the front court.
“You just have to deal with what you’ve been dealt. You’ve just got to play with it. We’ll figure it out as we start our practices of how we’re going to play,” Walz said. “Do we need to go to more four guards? It’s a new curve ball that’s being thrown at us, but it’s something that we handled before, and I expect us to do the same thing.”
The roster will be comprised of nine freshmen or sophomores, so coming together in the first few weeks of practice will be important. Louisville opens the season against a talented Cal team at the KFC YUM! Center.
The Cardinals non-conference schedule was released two weeks ago. Louisville travels to Kentucky, Michigan State and Western Kentucky.
“The one thing we have taken pride in, we have played some pretty good non-conference opponents to give our fans some excitement to come out and see some good basketball,” Walz said.