By Dalton Ray —
Bulldozing through their competition, No. 4 women’s basketball (32-2) heads into the NCAA tournament with momentum like never before. The Cardinals (32-2) swept the ACC conference titles, winning both the regular season and conference tournament — both for the first time in program history.
Making program history has been a common theme for this team. Louisville is a lock to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the program’s first. Their program-best 20-game win streak to start the season turned heads across the nation.
For coach Jeff Walz, this team might mean he makes another appearance in the national title game. He has led U of L to two runner-up finishes, first in 2009 and again in 2013.
Junior Asia Durr and senior Myisha Hines-Allen spearhead the Cardinals as two of the best players in the nation.
Durr earned ACC Player of the Year honors while averaging 18.9 points per game. She scored over 20 points in 14 games with a season-high 47 in November. The junior is racing up the all-time numbers in career points and made 3-pointers for U of L.
Hines-Allen, ACC tournament MVP, averaged nearly 14 points and 10 rebounds this season. Her physical and athletic play often draws the attention of two or more defenders.
The top-to-bottom ability of the team is what sets them apart from years past.
Redshirt junior Arica Carter has established herself as a high-IQ player that makes opponents pay with her consistent shooting (44 percent from the field, 40 from three). She also has a career-high with 138 assists.
Sophomore Jazmine Jones may be the biggest difference maker for U of L. Her athletic ability elevates her play, often leading to steal and fastbreak opportunities. Jones has also added the ability to knock down a pull-up jumper, making her more difficult to guard.
Junior Sam Fuehring has said multiple times this season her confidence is back and it’s apparent. Averaging nearly 10 points a game and 5.0 rebounds, Fuehring cleans up the mistakes around the basket for the Cardinals.
Three of the starting five play to the hands of Hines-Allen and Durr, but have the ability to make several key plays themselves. Add a bench that can go to nine deep and it obvious why this team is so dangerous.
Louisville’s best-ever start hasn’t come against an easy schedule. The Cardinals have rolled through eight ranked opponents and dominated one of the nation’s toughest leagues.
Riding a seven-game winning streak, Louisville heads into the NCAA tournament as a likely host for the opening rounds.
Reaching the Sweet 16 has been a regular occurrence for Walz, as the Cardinals have made four of the last five, but U of L hasn’t advanced to the Elite Eight since 2014.
Already building on the best regular season ever, the Cardinals have a chance to make their deepest postseason run since their national runner-up performance in 2013.
With all the turmoil the fan base has endured, the community has gravitated around Walz and company as they steer through their postseason campaign.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
Photo by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal