By Sam Draut–
With the luxury of playing on its home court, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team opens the first round of the NCAA tournament against Central Arkansas on Friday at 2:30 p.m. The third-seeded Cardinals (25-7) host what could potentially be the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at the KFC YUM! Center.
While Louisville enters the NCAA tournament winners of 22 of its last 24 games, Central Arkansas (28-3) travels north riding a 9-game winning-streak. The Southland Conference tournament champions did not have any mutual opponents with Louisville this season, but the 14th-seeded Sugar Bears do have a compliment of experienced players on the roster.
As Louisville head coach Jeff Walz directs a team filled with five freshmen and no seniors, Central Arkansas head coach Sandra Rushing contrasts with eight upperclassmen on her roster.
The guard combination of Maggie Proffitt and Brianna Mullins makes up nearly 40-percent of the Sugar Bear’s scoring. Proffitt has made a team-high 66 3-pointers and shoots 90-percent from the free-throw line. The 5-foot-7 guard leads Central Arkansas in scoring at 14.3 points per game. Mullins averages 10.5 points and five rebounds per game while passing her way to become the team’s second leading assister.
Led by ACC Player of the Year Myisha Hines-Allen, the Cardinal roster boasts six players taller than 6-foot. Hines-Allen, Louisville’s leading scorer and rebounder will look to take advantage of a shorter Central Arkansas interior, which has only two players taller than 6-foot.
Central Arkansas three primary front-court players, Taylor Baudoin, Kendara Watts and Rachel Logan stand at 5-foot-11, 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-1, respectively. Baudoin and Logan both average six rebounds per game. Louisville will have more size and length around the low-block, Hines-Allen is 6-foot-2 and fellow starting front court forward Cortnee Walton is 6-foot-3. Walz also can turn to his bench for size as well, Sam Fuehring is 6-foot-3 and Erin DeGrate is 6-foot-4.
Taking care of the basketball becomes quintessential in the NCAA tournament, and few players did it better in the regular season than Central Arkansas guard Jameka Watkins. The 5-foot-6 senior averages 5.1 points per game, but her greatest value is finding teammates. Watkins had a team-high 118 assists and had an astounding 2.8:1 assist to turnover ratio.
Louisville played eight teams selected for the NCAA tournament in the regular season, winning five games against teams that were eventually selected for the 64-team tournament. Though Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is meaningless once the NCAA tournament begins, Central Arkansas is 90th nationally and played one team in the top-50 this season.
The winner of Louisville – Central Arkansas will face the winner of sixth-seeded DePaul – 11th-seeded James Madison on Sunday in the round of 32.
Photo by Wade Morgen / The Louisville Cardinal