Spring is in the air! Or at least it was for most of this week. With a cold front and rain coming in, some spring sports have had their schedules shifted a bit to adjust. However, that doesn't mean that the spring sports in action have slowed down their performances at all. Softball, basketball, and volleyball were all on their respective playing surfaces yesterday and the two official games were marked down as wins for the Cards. Let's take a look at how the last Friday in March went for Louisville.
Cards Take Care of One Rematch, Set up Another
It was about a year ago that Oregon State and Louisville met with a run to the Final Four on the line. The Beavers kept the game close for the first 20 minutes in last year's affair, trailing by only 7 at the break, before Louisville laid it on in the second half. The Cards went on to win by 33 and advance, sending Oregon State home to stew. The players told ESPN prior to last night's game that they had circled this matchup as soon as the bracket came out, seeking revenge for last year's embarrassment.
Didn't work. Although the Cards won quarters 2 and 4 by only one point apiece, two significant spurts in the first and third quarters were the difference makers. The Cards jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first four minutes of the game. They would never yield the lead on their way to a 61-44 win. Oregon State was able to cut the lead to just four in the second quarter before Louisville spread it back out, but a 14-5 third quarter in Louisville's favor sealed the deal. Once again, the Beavers found their way to advancing in the NCAA tournament blocked by a dam built by Louisville.
The first quarter of last night's game showed Oregon State who they needed to watch out for immediately. As rivals with Oregon, they've got experience with slowing down a top player in Sabrina Ionescu. Unfortunately, they didn't get the memo quickly enough on Asia Durr, as she scored or assisted on Louisville's first 8 points. Though Durr would not score again for quite some time, she began to pull more attention, which opened up the rest of the team. Spoiler alert, Louisville is pretty daggone good when they can spread you out. Louisville's bigs, Sam Fuehring and Kylee Shook, showed that as they scored 11 of the remaining 13 Louisville points in the quarter, going a combined 3-3 from behind the arc.
Fuehring and Durr were fantastic last night, putting in a combined 77 of the total 200 team minutes. They each finished with 17 points and combined for 17 rebounds and 6 assists. One of them was 3-4 from three point range and the other had a block. Those two stats are contributed to the opposite player that you might think. Asia did commit two turnovers, but hey, they were two out of a team five, so there can't be a lot of complaint there.
As a team, the Cards were pretty well on their game. Of course, they'll need to play better in the next one, but don't let the low score fool you. This one was dictated by pace of play, with Louisville and Oregon State putting up only 57 and 56 total shots, respectively. The two teams shot 11 and 13 free throws and the turnover totals were fairly low at 5-12. The game was just slow. Of Louisville's 5 turnovers, two were shot clock violations. Part of that may have been the lack of willingness of either team to stretch to the bench for fresh players. Both teams played only 7 players with significant (10+) minutes. The 8th player for both teams played less than five minutes, and Louisville's extra three bench players were final minute subs.
Louisville did lose the rebounding battle, which is concerning, but they finished tied in second chance points and led in paint points, points off turnovers, and fast break points. Louisville will need to be stronger on the boards against UCONN on Sunday, but they succeeded at the things that the generally do well last night, and although it wasn't as flashy as their previous two wins, it was still a 17 points Sweet Sixteen victory.
Did I mention the Cards would be taking on UCONN? The Huskies played their third "closer than normal" game of this tournament last night when they took on UCLA. Geno's squad trailed to start the fourth quarter for the first time since 2016. Granted, they were in the middle of a run that would see them go up ten and finish out the game, but team's have been able to show what UCONN's weakness is in this tournament. Conveniently, that weakness is something Louisville is typically pretty good at: three point shooting. UCLA kept close and ahead of UCONN with abnormally good three point shooting, and they fell behind when they went cold. Louisville was 7-17 from behind the arc yesterday and are 21 of 58 (36.2%) from three on the tournament. Louisville can't win Sunday's game solely on three point shooting, but it would be extremely tough to win without it. I'm quite sure that Coach Walz knows that, but I am sure he will be encouraging his team to play their game as they normally would. They get plenty of threes in regular play anyway, and they've also beaten this same UCONN team once before this season.
The CASE Report
C - Care: I mentioned it previously, but Louisville won the turnover battle last night 5-12. That's a fantastic total for this team, and couldn't have come at a better time. In a slow, compact game like last night's, a few key turnovers can be the difference. Though Oregon State was the worst team in the country at forcing turnovers (no, really. 349th) with only 9.06 a game, the Cards still committed only just over half of these. For perspective, one of the top teams in this tournament, the Oregon Ducks, are only 43 spots ahead of their rivals, forcing 13.5 per game. Louisville played well and didn't stoop to the level of their competition. Capital 'C'.
A - Assists: If you've followed along with the CASE Report very often, you know that a low turnover number usually bodes well for the assists category as well. Such was the case (no pun intended) last night, as the Cards finished with 14 assists on 23 made baskets. That's an assist ratio of well over half and an ATO of 2.8. I've said all year that the teams that will be most successful this season have high ATOs. Let's see if Louisville can continue that trend. Capital 'A'.
S - Steals: For the number of total turnovers in last night's game, it would track pretty well that the steals totals would be low as well. Louisville snagged only 4, but they did allow only 1 from themselves. Additionally, Louisville's steals turned directly into points more often than not. Still, I'd like to see more active defense, leading to a faster pace and more overall shots. Can't depend on every team you play shooting only 30% from the field. Lowercase 's'.
E - Efficiency: Louisville was pretty squarely a 40% shooting team last night. They shot 40% from two and 41.2% from three, leading to an overall 40.4% on the night. It was better than the opponent, who could muster only 30.4% shooting, led directly by an abysmal 2-22 performance from three. The Beavers just didn't have it last night. However, Louisville's total is below what we expect, as we look for a much higher percentage of two point shots to find the bottom of the net. Louisville also shot only 72.7% from the line, making 8 of their 11 attempts. Again, they're free points. Although just one more make on one more attempt would have gotten them to the benchmark, they didn't get there. An uncharacteristic no letter in the efficiency category, which will have to change on Sunday.
On the one hand, Louisville played a pretty clean offensive game, earning a high number of assists and limiting turnovers. On the other, the pace of play kept them from getting the volume of shots they'd normally like, and they missed quite a bit more twos than expected. C-A-s-_ isn't terrible, but it likely won't beat UCONN. Look for a bounce back for Louisville's shooters (shoutout Sam Fuehring who continues to dominate with her field goal percentage this tournament) on Sunday.
So there it is. Another victory in the books for the Cards. Three more, and Louisville could be raising it's first National Championship trophy come next Sunday. It starts with a rematch. Perhaps the toughest rematch in the whole tournament, but one that Louisville remains prepared for. This will be the test. Have the Cards truly rid themselves of the UCONN boogeyman, or will the struggles against the Huskies continue during the tournament. We'll all find out at the same time. Cards and Huskies tip off at noon on ESPN. If you watched last night's games, you'll know that this matchup in Albany is virtually a home game for UCONN. All the better for Louisville to prove that they truly are the best team in the country this year.
Softball Takes Early Lead, Rallies to Beat Top 25 VT
Though the headline is a bit unorthodox, it's exactly what happened, as Louisville saw a their 3-1 lead after one inning evaporate before they ultimately putting up the winning two runs in the sixth inning. The Cards beat Virginia Tech in the first game of the three game weekend series 7-5. Louisville was led by Celene Funke, who knocked in three RBI and had yet ANOTHER triple. The junior had just two triples over the previous two seasons, but is now up to nine so far this year. Louisville's team speed also presented itself in the form of four steals, helping players get into scoring position and bringing in runs to score.
After Megan Hensley got the start and struggled to hold the lead, Danielle Watson came in to just over half of the game. Watson earned the win, after allowing just one run on two hits. She struck out five and walked none, needing just 46 pitches to get through her 3 and 2/3 innings. As a staff, Louisville pitching is still keeping walks and HBPs down, as Hensley also allowed just one walk and struck out three. Louisville is getting to the point where they can run out the best pitcher for the situation and have a very good chance at success.
The win bumped Louisville up to 22-10, and got them up to 4-3 in ACC play. The Cards can remain better than .500 in ACC play by snagging one more win off of the Hokies in this weekend series. Tech sits at 28-5 and 8-2 in the ACC and will surely look to keep Louisville from scoring quickly in the two remaining games. Louisville's skipper, Holly Aprile, may have to show what the Cards can do against a quality opponent in late, close game situations. Today's game is scheduled for 2PM and is available on ACC Network Extra.
Volleyball Rallies, Falls Against UK
In a spring exhibition last night, the Cards welcomed the Cats to Cardinal Arena for what has become an annual offseason matchup for the two programs. Kentucky has fairly well established themselves as a perennial contender in volleyball, and the official Battle for the Bluegrass in the fall is usually a decent litmus test for the season.
Louisville ultimately fell last night, after recovering from a 2-0 deficit to force the match to a fifth set. The Cards dropped that final set 15-8 but none of the four full length sets were decided by more than three points. Louisville is still without new incoming freshmen, but we got our first look at new transfer Tori Dilfer, who will look to replace Setter of the Year, Wilma Rivera. The Cards also suffered a blow early on, when Piper Roe went down with an apparent leg injury. According to our correspondents on site, it looked to be a knee injury at first glance, but the trainer appeared to be examining the ankle/heel area. No official news yet, but hopefully it is only a short absence for the redshirt junior who looked to factor into the middle of the lineup a lot more this season. The Cards will be participating in the KIVA tournament in Louisville later next week.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
Well, do you think we'll have enough to get us through the hour today? It's a full house on Mellwood as the originals, Paulie and Jeff, are once again joined by Jared, Daryl, and me for the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour. We'll bring you personal accounts from last night's games, additional analysis of the basketball win and future opponent, and much more at 11AM. Tune in to WCHQ FM at 100.9, the WCHQ App, wchqfm.com, or Facebook Live to join us.
Until next time, Go Cards!
Additional pictures from Louisville volleyball last night below, courtesy of Jared Anderson.