By Sam Draut–
The University of Louisville women’s basketball team reached the second round of the NCAA tournament after finishing the regular season 15-1 in the ACC. The Cardinals started the season 1-4, but coach Jeff Walz and the young roster turned the year around, winning 23 of their final 26 games to end the year at 26-8. Heading into the offseason, a few questions face a team that will be ranked in the 2016-17 preseason polls.
Can Arica Carter be the point guard Walz wants?
Walz hasn’t had many true point guards in his nine seasons at Louisville. Jude Schimmel maybe the closest thing he has had to a stereotypical point guard as players like Deseree’ Byrd, Shoni Schimmel, Bria Smith were more of combo guards that played the point guard position. Last week, former McDonald’s All-American Taja Cole announced her decision to transfer from U of L.
“With the support of my family & friends & friends I will be transferring from U of L. I will miss my teammates. Thanks to all of the awesome fans and the city of Louisville. I’m excited about what the future holds for me,” Cole said on a social media post.
Cole was the primary backup for Arica Carter and played in all 34 games this season. The 5-foot-7 Virginia native played 15 minutes per game and averaged 2.9 points while dishing out 66 assists. In the limited minutes of play, Cole had the highest assist to turnover ratio on the roster of 1.57 to 1.
The Cardinal’s 2016 recruiting class includes five-star point guard Sydney Zambrotta, but Carter, a rising junior, will have two full years of experience on the incoming freshman from New York.
Carter started 29 games, led the team in 3-point percentage and was third in assists with 87. The 5-foot-8 California native averaged 4.1 points per game. Carter scored 15 points and hit 6 of 9 shots against 19th-ranked South Florida in February.
Though rising sophomore Asia Durr played point guard in high school, it is Carter’s position to lose. With a bevy of talent and scorers around her, Carter can play within herself while directing the half-court offense. A majority of the offense Walz runs isn’t reliant on a point guard to dribble the ball for the entirety of the possession, but having a reliable on-ball guard is important for any team.
Is there an encore for Myisha Hines-Allen?
The 6-foot-2 forward became one of best low-post players in the country during her sophomore year. Hines-Allen was named an Associate Press honorable mention All-American and earned ACC Player of the Year honors after leading the Cardinals in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks. Her 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game was third best in the ACC.
Hines-Allen was downright dominant at times this season, and with the addition of an improving midrange jumper, she became difficult for teams to game plan against. She was seventh in the ACC in offense rebounds per game and finished with the ninth most points in a season in program history.
One of the best parts of Hines-Allen’s game if how efficient she can be. She made 54.7 percent of her field goals and ranked seventh in the ACC from the free-throw line at 80 percent. With a strong low-post and face up game, Hines-Allen’s next step will be to improve her ball handling while limiting turnovers.
Will Asia Durr be healthy?
Durr suffered a groin injury last spring and was hampered by it during the season. She wasn’t able to play during the summer and slowly worked back in the fall. Walz even went as far as thinking she could be a possible redshirt candidate in early December, but the 5-foot-10 Georgia native played through ongoing pain and made it through the season.
Walz monitored her minutes to keep the guard as healthy as possible and she averaged 11.0 points in 22.6 minutes per game. She scored 20 or more points in four games and showed flashes of why she was ranked as the nation’s top rated recruit in 2015. Durr was named to the All-ACC freshman team after being a key contributor to the Cardinal’s 15-1 conference record.
For the rising sophomore, a healthy offseason will be beneficial because of her reputation to work diligently at improving her game.
“She works. When you’re willing to do the work to get where you are, your teammates are going to respect that,” Walz said earlier this year. “And anyone who follows basketball knows she has gotten to where she is because of the time she has spent.”
Will Sam Fuehring step forward in her sophomore year?
Hines-Allen gets the most attention of any of the Cardinals front court players, but Fuehring has potential and versatility as a stretch forward. The 6-foot-3 New Jersey native averaged 10 minutes per game in 32 appearances, but played 16.3 minutes per contest in the final six games.
Though it took Fuehring time to adjust to the strength and size of the college game, she scored in double figures four times and seemed more confident in Louisville’s final games.
Cortnee Walton and Hines-Allen are entrenched in the starting lineup, but Fuehring can add a presence off the bench next season if she improves her strength. The rising sophomore had more than a few defensive lapses this season, so becoming a more comfortable player within Walz’ scheme will add to her playing time as well.
How will the incoming freshmen handle the transition?
Walz signed five players to make up the nation’s top rated recruiting class in 2015. With the influx of youth, the Cardinals had seven newcomers to the roster when Briahanna Jackson and Dakota Weatherford were added to the mix. The young roster struggled at the beginning of the year, dropping to 1-4 through its first five games. Walz demanded his team to play with pride and effort, something that he thought was lacking through the first month of the season.
The 2016-17 season will face a similar storyline with five incoming freshmen arriving in the summer. Three of the five players are ranked in the top 30 of the 2016 HoopGurlz rankings. Ciera Johnson is a McDonalds All American and headlines the top-10 rated recruiting class. The 6-foot-4 forward from Texas is rated by HoopGurlz as the second best post player in the 2016 recruiting class.
Kylee Shook is a fellow post player also standing at 6-foot-4. She is ranked 18th nationally by HoopGurlz. Sydney Zambrotta is ranked as the nation’s ninth-best point guard. 5-foot-10 guard Jazmine Jones and 6-foot-3 forward Bionca Dunham round out the recruiting class.
With the exception of Cole, Walz has the luxury of his entire roster returning added to the incoming top-10 rated recruiting class. Blending the returning players and newcomers together will be critical during the offseason.
Photo by Wade Morgen / The Louisville Cardinal