By Conner Farrell —
The Cardinal’s coverage of the basketball schedule breakdown continues.
This week we turn our focus to the upcoming season for women’s basketball.
Head coach Jeff Walz’s 2017-18 squad started out a school-best 20-0 and reached the Final Four, ultimately losing to Mississippi State 73-63 in heartbreaking fashion. The team finished with a 36-3 record.
Highlights from last season include 12 wins versus ranked opponents and three wins from teams within the top-five: No. 5 Ohio State and No. 2 Notre Dame (twice).
The theme for women’s basketball this year is unfinished business as they return reigning ACC player of the year and First Team All-American senior guard Asia Durr, senior forward Sam Fuehring and redshirt senior point guard Arica Carter.
U of L will make another run through the vaunted ACC conference, but first they wade through a tough non-conference schedule. During the Southpoint Shootout tournament and the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, the Cards will face four teams who made the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Let’s take a look at three key non-conference matchups.
Nebraska, Nov. 29
Louisville and Nebraska will square off in the ACC/Big 10 challenge for what looks to be the Card’s first notable game of the season.
The Cornhuskers are coming off a 21-11 season in which they reached the second round of the 2018 NCAA tournament, which was quite the turn-around for a team that finished 7-22 in the 2016-17 season.
The Huskers’ head coach Amy Williams, who is in her third season at the helm, was honored as the 2018 Big 10 Coach of the Year.
This bounce-back in 2017-18 was spurred in large part by junior guard Hannah Whitish and sophomore center Kate Cain.
Whitish lead the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game, garnering Second Team All-Big 10 honors.
Cain, who will be entering her sophomore season, was First Team All-Big 10 for defense and earned a spot on the All-Big 10 freshmen team. She lead the team in rebounding at seven per game last year and chipped in nine points per game, which was good enough for third on the team.
Coming as the seventh game of the season, this will be an early benchmark for what experts predict to be a highly ranked Cardinal team.
Kentucky, Dec. 9
Kentucky had a down year in 2018, going 15-17 and missing the tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season. One of last season’s losses included a 87-63 rout at the hands of the Cardinals in Lexington.
Nonetheless, the stage is set for a comeback year for head coach Matthew Mitchell and the Wildcats. The team returns a pair of senior guards who finished top-two in scoring.
Maci Morris averaged 17.3 points per game last season and garnered a Second Team All-SEC selection. Morris joins with point guard Taylor Murray, who finished with 11.5 points per game in 2018. Together, the duo create an explosive back court.
Another player to watch from Kentucky is combo guard Rhyne Howard. The freshman was a member of USA Basketball’s U-18 National Team and Miss Basketball in high school for the state of Tennessee.
All told, the Cards may not beat the Cats as easily as they did last season.
Connecticut, Jan. 31
The reigning national champions come to the KFC Yum! Center in the middle of the non-conference slate for a prime-time contest on ESPN.
The Huskies have one of the most storied programs in all of college athletics. They have not only reloaded their team with the best talent in recruiting, but also return two of the nation’s best players.
Senior forward Katie Lou Samuelson has been a two-time First Team All-American and led the team in scoring last season with 17.4 points per game. She creates a problem for any foe at 6-foot-3. Samuelson’s ability to score from virtually anywhere on the court, as well as having second-to-none ball handing skills, make her a contender for national player of the year.
Fellow senior forward Napheesa Collier is not to be completely overshadowed by her teammate. Collier will have a bigger role this season after the departure of Breanna Stewart. A Third Team All-American selection, Collier ranked second on the team last season with 16.1 points per game.
UConn is likely to go undefeated any given year, and any team that faces them will surely be a considerable underdog.
U of L gave the Huskies a run for their money last season, losing narrowly 69-58. The Cards outscored the Huskies 32-27 in the second half.
With both teams to be highly ranked, this will surely be one of the best matchups all year for women’s college basketball.
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