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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Cardinal Couple -- Showdown in Storrs


SUNDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

- Softball splits on Saturday

-Who will soar in Stors?


Softball continued in Boca Raton, Florida at the Florida Atlantic Kick-Off Classic with two games on Saturday.   The Cardinals faced Ohio State and Tulsa.  The softball Cards split the day beating Ohio State in an extra inning, 5-4, and going down to Tulsa 4-0.   The team finishes the Classic Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. facing St. John’s.    We will have more coverage on the weekend play in the Monday edition of Cardinal Couple. 

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The women’s basketball team matches up with the Connecticut Huskies on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.  The game will be televised on ESPN in the first meeting of the two since the Championship game in New Orleans on April 9.

Louisville faces Connecticut today at Gampel Pavillion in Storrs, Connecticult.  It is the first of two scheduled meetings, the follow up to come on Senior Day in Louisville on March 3.  The likelihood of playing a 3rd time is highly probable, most likely meeting in the championship game of the American Athletic Conference tournament.  A fourth meeting in the NCAA tournament is not too far-fetched.

This storyline has been written before.  Jeff Walz and his Louisville Cardinals face the  #1 team in the country and the prohibitive favorite to repeat as National Champions.  The opponent is different this time, though the Cardinals hope the outcome is the same. 

It was April 2 and at stake was a spot in the Elite Eight.  Louisville vs. Baylor.  David vs. Goliath.   A confident, if not sometime unpredictable, team rode in to Oklahoma with all the swagger and confidence of a team with nothing to lose, and everything to gain.  Play hard.  Play smart.  Play a full 40 minutes and shoot lights out.  Protect the ball and play the best defensive game of the year.  

Play that team did.  We all know how that story ended.   Some want to compare the UConn rematch to that game.  If Louisville could topple Brittney Griner and the Baylor Bears, anything is possible.  Play hard.  Play smart.  Play a full 40 minutes and shoot lights out.  Oh, and don’t forget your defense. 

The problem with this analogy is coaching.  Kim Mulkey is no Geno Auriemma.   Coach Jeff Walz knows this.  Auriemma is a masterful coach with a team of All-Americans.  Connecticut is loaded at every position.  If you stop Stephanie Dolson any of the other 4 starters can take over.  This game is nothing like the Baylor game, and the stakes are nowhere near as high. 


Jeff Walz and his teams are 0-10 against the Huskies, and oh how we all want that elusive win.  Could it happen today in Storrs?   Of course it could.  If there was ever a Connecticut team that has vulnerability it is this version of the Huskies. 

It is not that this team is lacking talent.  Actually, it is quite the opposite.  This may be the most talented team we have seen from Connecticut.  How then can they be beat, and what makes them vulnerable?  In one word: depth.   The bench for the Huskies is very, very short.  They currently dress 7 scholarship players and two walk-ons.  Their preseason short bench has become even shorter with the season ending surgery of Morgan Tuck and the bum ankle of Brianna Banks. 

Stephanie Dolson, Kalena Mosqueda-Lewis, Bria Hartley, Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson will get the start.  Off the bench you can expect Kiah Stokes and Saniya Chong.  (If Chong sounds familiar, she should.  The freshman was recruited by Louisville and chose between Louisville and UConn.).   The Huskies are highly disciplined, efficient, excellent passers and play with a very high basketball I.Q.  Every player can hurt you offensively.  If you double-team one of them, you leave a weapon wide open. 

The Cardinals are facing their own short-handedness.  The sore knee of Bria Smith will keep her out of this game, and Shawnta Dyer has been sidelined as well.   So, what does Louisville do to make a serious run at Connecticut? 

The only apparent chink in the Huskie armor is depth.  So you go at them.  You play hard and you make them defend you.  Unfortunately you never know how the game is going to be called.  Getting the Huskies in foul trouble, early, will go a long way to beginning to climb the mountain that we know as Connecticut.   This sounds easy, however, with a very disciplined team, they are not known for getting in foul trouble.  They’re smart.  Getting them in foul trouble will be hard, but necessary. 

A fast paced, transition game has the ability to work to Louisville’s advantage.  In the half-court Connecticut has proven they can lock down and defend.  Shoni Schimmel has been shut down year after year.  Transition offense and tough defense on the other end may start to level the playing field.  Aside from being smart they are also well conditioned.  Running a depleted squad has the potential to fatigue them.  Fatigue can lead to fouls.  Wear the Huskies out.  This will not be an easy task. 

Take care of the ball.  This is the #1 team in the country.  Turning the ball over will seal one’s fate.  Louisville must limit turnovers. 

A full 40 minute game.  The Cardinals must play a full 40 minutes.  There is no room for mental lapses.  A 6-8 minute stretch of no scoring will dig a hole that cannot be climbed out of.  Play hard for a full 40 minutes. 

Even if all of these things are executed, this is still a tall task.  I never count Jeff Walz and his teams out.  Is a win possible?  Yes it is.  Is it likely?  Well, those are not good odds.

 I like our chances better in March.  March 3 is likely to be a packed house as it is senior day.  The 6th man (a packed house) can help the Cardinals go a long way towards a win.   It is the end of a long season, and Connecticut will have been playing short for far too long.   I like our chances much better in March. 

"We ain't skeered of no dogs, little brother."
My wish for the team is a competitive match up.  I want to see a confident bunch go out there and play hard for 40 minutes.  I want to see Connecticut sweat.  I want to see Geno have to call a couple of timeouts to regroup.  I want to see several of our players lighting it up from beyond the arc and Asia, Sara and Emmonnie banging around inside and on the boards.  I would love a win, but, this is just a conference game that we are expected to lose.   I want this team to know they can compete (with UConn).  The win will come when they know they can compete at the same level. 

In the meantime, pull up a seat.   Enjoy the show.  Would you like lemon in your water? 

jenny obryan

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