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Friday, December 31, 2010

Rebounding holds key to Lady Cards BIG EAST chances


FRIDAY @ THE COUPLE:
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-Rebounding the key to CARDS in BIG EAST
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-Down goes the Huskies
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-Battle of the Bluegrass toady at noon
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Sherrone Vails, pictured right, is one of the key components in the Lady Cards rebounding arsenal. (Photo by Charlie Springer-UofL Card Game).
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The BIG EAST awaits Louisville and the Cards final 15 games of the year will place Louisville in conference action from Tampa, FL. to Hartford, CT. with seven road trips and eight appearances in the KFC YUM Center. The Cards begin the quest for conference greatness with two at home...St John visiting on Tuesday, Jan. 4th and Pittsburgh stopping by on Sunday, Jan. 9th.
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For Louisville to prosper and climb the BIG EAST ladder, they'll need to maintain a strong and aggressive presence in the paint. Rebounding equals wins in the rough and rumble conference and night after night, the Lady Cards will find the competition strong and plentiful on both ends of the court.
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Keisha Hines has been there, done that. The senior knows all about the board wars that lie ahead for her and her teammates and has given a good account of herself going after missed shots during her time here. We'd like to see Keisha a little less foul prone...but she's excellent at creating her own space underneath the rim and won't back down from any opponent in the paint. Hines can be a useful scoring tool, too...by the backboard and Walz will not hesitate to call on her to take it to the hoop against sagging defenses and create second chance scoring opportunities.
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Sherrone Vails has been tested by the likes of rebounding powers Xavier, Tennessee and Kentucky and the experience gained against these teams will serve her well in BIG EAST play. Vails will need to be more aggressive in going after missed shots in conference play and avoid the thumping, shoving and brutal body checks that the post players in the BIG EAST will gleefully distribute night after night on the slender freshman from Maryland. Vails has shot blocking ability, we've all seen that...but she'll need to block out, grab and secure and muscle her way through the paint in the next fifteen at a much higher skill level if Louisville is to have rebounding success.
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Asia Taylor has the size, strength and skills to be a great board controller for the Cards. It's a question of whether she can do it sufficiently enough without fouling and whether she can acquire the positioning and leverage skills to be successful at it against this caliber of competition. With the Cards lack of players patrolling the paint this year, Taylor could be a key factor in keeping missed opponent shots from becoming second chance scoring opportunities. We'd like to see Taylor develop a softer touch around the rim when attempting putbacks or trying close in shots. Her skill level is there, she just needs to channel it and use it effectively.
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Monique Reid finds the ball. Never count her out of scrambling to grab any missed shot. Her ability to work inside, score the driving basket or be there for the follow up shot are unmatched on the Louisville squad. what we'd like to see Reid improve on is the defensive end. If Reid could put the same intensity into stopping opponents, grabbing missed shots and blocking players off the boards that she does when creating on the offensive end, she'd be All-World. She's a smart and heady ball player, it'll come for her and the recognition factor between her and Schimmel on the court will pay dividends in easy scores on lob passes behind the defense.
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Add Antonita Slaughter, who has the height to be an effective rebounder, Tia Gibbs...who rebounds way beyond her height expectations and the bruising, competitive Polly Harrington off the bench and the Cards have some options, some bright spots and strengths when it comes to securing missed shots. They just need to practice what Jeff Walz preaches and display it on game day.
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Down goes UCONN. After 90 wins in a row, Geno's Huskies see the streak end on the road against a fired up Stanford Cardinal squad in Maples Pavillion last night. The 71-59 loss on the road isn't all that much of a shocker...it was Stanford that gave the Huskies the most fits last year...leading big at halftime in the NCAA Championship game before losing and beating them in the 2008 Final Four in Tampa.
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The key to this one last night was Stanford racing out to an impressive early lead and NOT wiltering this time in the final twenty minutes. It also speaks volumes on how effective and helpful a raucous and rowdy home crowd can be a team's "sixth man." Jeanette Pohlen had a career game with 31 points against the Huskies but the play of Kayla Pederson, who was absent in the Cardinal loss to DePaul earlier this month was a key component also. Maya Moore did what she could to corral the Birds...nailing a three midway thru the second half to pull UConn within four at 48-44. She had a chance to cut it to four again late in the game but couldn't cash in on the front end of a 1-1 from the line.
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Over 7000 watched this one. If you put this game on a neutral court (did anyone say KFC YUM Center?) I bet you get 15,000.
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Speaking of the KFC YUM Center...big doings down there at noon Friday when the Battle of the Bluegrass tips off. There aren't many, if any, fiercer men's rivalries than Louisville vs. Kentucky. A sold out arena of 23,000+ will see if Louisville's recent love affair with the three pointer will be enough to overcome the talent and depth of John Calipari's Big Blue.
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David Watson weighs in with a brief commentary on this yearly battle. As usual, David's words are worth the read:
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Kentucky vs. Louisville. Cards vs. Cats. Big Brother vs. the DirtyBirds. Calipari vs. Pitino. I could use the rest of this column to list the monikers and marquee headlines this one has produced over the years. I won't, though. At noon Friday, an overwhelming majority of televisions and radios in the Commonwealth of Kentucky will be tuned in to this epic contest. 23,000 will be packed into the KFC YUM! Center to hoot, holler and witness this version of basketball insanity.
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There will be plenty of viewers up here in heartland Indiana as well. My friends who wager on such contests tell me that it's a game that expert gamblers lay off of. I will place my yearly, customary $5 offering on the line with my next door neighbor (a UK grad) and go over to his house with my wife and kids, a few beers and some potato salad. We'll watch, cheer and groan. We'll reflect on some of the classics of this series. I'll mention "Smackie" Walker's triple double. He'll counter with Rex Chapman's bombardment. We'll have a couple of great hours.
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I can't tell you who will win today. I only know that the rest of my New Year's Eve Day will be tempered by the outcome. My wife (Cardinal proud) will become a giddy schoolgirl again if the Cards prevail. If not, her wine consumption will increase dramatically.
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What I wouldn't give to be in Louisville's showcase by the Ohio River for this one. Even in the dark and cramped heights of the 300 sections. I will be there in spirit, though. I'll be helping Kyle Kuric follow through on every three point attempt. I'll grunt and go up with Rakeem Buckles on every rebound. I'll be Peyton Siva grinding my way past the UK backcourt pressure and that'll be me along with Rick Pitino pacing the sidelines and shouting out the switches.
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I love this game. I live for this game. I laugh and cry over this game. And I probably always will. Call it my addiction, my fetish or my own personal day of celebration. It is what college basketball is all about and it is right around the corner.
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Game on. Where's my red sweater and Cardinal Basketball ball cap?
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Thanks to David for his always insightful and heartfelt offerings. CARDINAL COUPLE is predicting a UofL win. Sonja says by seven. Paul by two. Bill the Goat likes Louisville by 12. The Cardinal Chimps are hoping for a three point win. Tip it up, let 'em go!

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