By Matt Bradshaw —
For the second straight year and second time in program history, women’s basketball has earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The bracket was revealed early, due to a mistake by ESPN, drawing a fair amount of ire from lack of care given to the reveal.
No. 1 seed Louisville hosts No. 16 seed Robert Morris at the KFC Yum! Center this Friday, March 22 at noon. If the Cardinals win, they face the victor of Michigan and Kansas State also at the Yum! Center on Sunday.
Baylor, Notre Dame and Mississippi State are the other No. 1 seeds of the tournament. Louisville is the No. 1 seed in the Albany Region, where Connecticut is the No. 2 seed.
Though certainly deserved, Louisville’s seeding was not necessarily predicted after its loss to Notre Dame in the ACC Championship. Some predicted a No. 2 seed despite the Cards’ 29-3 record and wins over talents like UConn.
“It’s a great honor,” head coach Jeff Walz said about the seeding. “It just shows you what your body of work has been throughout the entire season. But wherever they send us, we know we’re going to get the opportunity to play the first two at home…So, I feel pretty confident about that. And then it’s one game at a time. I’ve said it in the 12 years I’ve been here. If you can figure out a way to get to the Sweet 16, it’s anybody’s ballgame. They’re great teams. And you’ve just got to play your best that night.”
Shooting for the title
Louisville matched up with fellow No. 1 seed Notre Dame much differently this season compared to last year. Louisville defeated its conference foe in the 2018 ACC Championship, while Notre Dame came out on top in 2019.
The Fighting Irish defeated the Cardinals 99-79 in the conference title game, revealing weaknesses Louisville must remedy before the NCAA tournament. These problems revolve around defense, rebounding and health.
Concerning defense, Notre Dame’s 27 points in the first quarter were the most allowed by Louisville in that quarter all season. In addition, Notre Dame’s 99 points were the most allowed by Louisville in a game since the 2009-10 season.
Defense has not been a issue all season by any means, as the Cards held Connecticut to just 69 points when the two juggernauts met. The main concern is Notre Dame’s 72 points in the paint, so Louisville needs to work at defending the area better against bigger opponents.
Connected with defense is rebounding, where Notre Dame held a 44-29 advantage. Unlike defense, rebounding has been a problem for Louisville previously and remains an aspect of the game the team should keep in mind.
“There are definitely things that we can fix,” senior Arica Carter said. “It’s not only Notre Dame that we struggled rebounding against. We can focus on it so it won’t be a problem in the NCAA Tournament.”
The reasons the Cardinals struggled with defense and rebounding are not necessarily complicated, and they revolve around two players: Carter and Sam Fuehring. Carter missed out on the Notre Dame game due to a knee injury, and Fuehring played limited minutes because of an ankle sprain (she also broke her nose in the semifinals of the tournament).
Both seniors are vital parts of Louisville’s team – Fuehring is the leading rebounder, Carter the starting point guard – and their unlucky absences could certainly have contributed to the magnitude of the loss to Notre Dame.
Luckily enough, Carter and Fuehring will both be good to play in the upcoming NCAA tournament. And with this problem fixed, it’s not unthinkable for Louisville to rebound from its ACC performance for a national championship.
The Cards have proven they are one of the best teams in the country, led by All-American senior Asia Durr and coach of the year candidate Walz. The road will not be easy, but Louisville has as good a chance as any school to win its final game.
“This is not our final goal,” Durr said after the loss to Notre Dame. “We’ve just got to learn from it and continue pushing forward.”
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File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal