By Dalton Ray–
With tournament play days away, the goal of winning a national championship is in reach for 68 Division I women’s basketball teams. Louisville enters the tourney as four seed with hopes of reaching their third Final Four since 2009.
Why they will: Star power
Louisville’s trio of Asia Durr, Myisha Hines-Allen and Mariya Moore is one of the most lethal in the nation. The three combine for an average of 43 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists a game. Durr and Hines-Allen are All-ACC First Team selects and Moore is a second team select.
When the three are on their game, Louisville is nearly unstoppable. Durr is one nation’s most gifted offensive players and leads the ACC in made 3-pointers. Hines-Allen is one of the most physically imposing players in the country, averaging 13 points and nine rebounds a game. Moore has great vision with 160 assists and has the ability to knock down the wing-three.
Jeff Walz has history
When Walz came to Louisville, he was a relatively unknown assistant coach at Maryland. In his 10 years as U of L’s coach, Walz has eight tournament appearances with a 21-8 record. His 72.4 winning percentage in the tournament is seventh all-time in women’s basketball history. Under Walz, the Cardinals have reached the championship game twice, Elite Eight three times and Sweet 16 eight times.
Owning the glass
The Cardinals have great size, with eight players at least 6-foot and four 6-foot-3 or taller. Louisville isn’t just big for nothing, their 1,423 season rebounds are eighth in the country. U of L has a +7.8 rebounding margin and have only been out-rebounded in nine of their 34 games played. When the Cardinals rebound well, it shows in the win column. Of Louisville’s seven losses, U of L has been out-rebounded in five.
Why they won’t: Problems against the top
Louisville has 5-5 record against top 25 teams. At the time of their victories, Louisville beat No. 17 Kentucky, No. 25 Syracuse, No. 14 Miami, No. 23 South Florida and No. 18 North Carolina State. At the time of the losses, Louisville fell to No. 3 South Carolina, No. 5 Maryland, No. 13 Duke, No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 3 Notre Dame again.
The Cardinals have shown they can beat second-level teams, but have trouble against the top tier teams. The top three seeds in Louisville’s region are one seed Baylor (30-3), two seed Mississippi State (29-4) and three seed Washington (27-5). For Louisville to get to the Final Four, they will likely have to go through Baylor and Mississippi State who have spent the entire season in the top eight.
Injuries in the backcourt
Junior Arica Carter had season-ending surgery in December. By losing a pass-first point guard, pressure shifted to senior Briahanna Jackson to navigate the offense. Jackson changed her game to become the facilitator of the offense and finished the season with a career-high 116 assists. While she was playing some of the best game of her career, the former UCF transfer was derailed by injury and hasn’t played since Feb. 6 due to back spasms.
Without Jackson and Carter, Walz then moved Durr to the point guard. Durr is a score-first guard so not having a facilitator could be troublesome. Senior transfer Taylor Johnson has averaged 14 minutes a game since the injury but only has 12 assists in eight games without Jackson. If Jackson’s back spasms continue to be an issue, Johnson will need to step up her play.
While having stars to carry the team has its perks, it also has its downsides. When Louisville’s power three aren’t scoring, the Cardinals’ offensive efficiency goes down. Louisville’s fourth leading scorer is Jackson with 6.5 points a game. Freshman Kylee Shook has stepped into starting lineup since Jackson’s injury and the center is averaging 5.8 points a game in the eight games without Jackson.
Louisville will need a consistent fourth scorer or group scoring off the bench to make a deep run. If the Cardinals have scoring lulls like they have done at times this year, U of L will make another quick exit.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal