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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What lies ahead for the Lady Cards?

Free Panera? See the bottom of today's column..

A bitter ending to the 2009-10 season with a loss to Bradley in the WBI first round in Freedom Hall. A game where it looked like Jeff Walz's players were just going thru the motions. A season that saw injury upon injury pile up on a young team until you had to wonder sometimes if they'd be able to dress enough players to have a substitution. Lopsided losses to Kentucky, Tennessee, Rutgers, UConn and even Middle Tennessee. It was far from the magical run that the squad had in 2008-2009. It was frustrating and difficult to watch from the stands at times.

Hope springs eternal, though. A new season ahead, with new players...healthy returning players and a new focus and attitude on campus. A desire to erase the bad memories of the previous year and return to the national rankings, top of the conference leader board and respect from their opponents.

"It was just a colossal comedy of errors and bad luck last year. Dez going down, Tise not eligible, the other injuries. We tried but we knew going into a lot of our games that it would take a miracle to win...or even stay within 10 points of our opponent. I never quit, not once, but there sure were times when I got frustrated and down on myself. I felt bad for our fans, too. They hung in there even though we weren't doing very good. They deserve better. They're gonna get it this year."

The words above, from a UofL player whose name will be kept confidential, speak volumes. There will be 15 players, at last count, that will be competing for 5 starting positions and key roles off the bench for the Lady Cards this year. Most of them have been hard at work in the spring and summer months...running, conditioning, playing pickup games and bonding.

It is a close team, to the casual observers eye...They hang together, the freshmen are meshing with the returning players and the focus is on improvement. There are only 4 of them left on the roster that were a part of the trip to St. Louis for the Final Four in 2009. There are leaders, though....and there is talent.

The adherence to coach Jeff Walz's style of basketball will be a key factor on gaining court time on the KFC YUM! floor for the upcoming season. You know coach Walz...defense is a priority, transition game a prime option, 100% when you're on the court and no loose ball goes uncontested. Who will show these traits?

We'll look for (5) key things in the upcoming months:

1) The return of Dez Byrd. She was the on court leader, the voice and the motivator for the Cards last season until injuries forced her to the sidelines. Will she be ready to go this year? There will be competition. Charmaine Tay, Rachel Story, Shelby Harper and Shoni Schimmel will not stand by quietly and this should be a great battle to watch for the point guard position.

2) Will the Cards "go to Mo"? Monique Reid was the leading scorer for Louisville last season. At times, it seemed she was the only offense the Cards could muster. The wing from Fern Creek will need to be more of an overall player for the Cards to improve, though...and incoming freshman Antonita Slaughter has skills that will make her a contender at the spot.

3) Where's the beef? Keisha Hines and Asia Taylor are the only returning front line players from last year. They'll draw competition from Sherrone Vails, Shawnta Dyer and Polly Harrington. Reports on Taylor this summer indicate that she's almost completely over the injuries that hindered her last year and that she's dominating the competition in pickup games in the SAC and Cardinal Arena.

4) The three point threat. Becky Burke can be automatic at times from beyond the arc. Then, there are those occasions when she suffers from a power outage. Sharp shooters LaToya Johnson, Tia Gibbs, Nikki Burton and Shoni Schimmel will challenge for playing time and will need to show expert marksmanship from beyond the arc for the Cards chances of pulling opponents out of pack in zone defenses.

5) Strength in numbers. It looks to be a far cry from the six or seven players Walz had available last year. 15 girls, depth at every position. Who will win the battles? I'm no expert, but I would be too disappointed with a starting line-up against Tennessee of:

PG-Dez Byrd
SG-Becky Burke
C-Keisha Hines
SF-Monique Reid
PF-Asia Taylor

OK, girls...I've thrown it out there. Prove me right or wrong.

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