Cards Force Colonials into Tactical Retreat
Louisville was without Head Coach Jeff Walz and their starting point guard, Arica Carter, but it ultimately didn't matter as the Cards took down Robert Morris University with a final score of 69-34. Longtime Louisville assistant Steph Norman was at the helm yesterday, and she was able to rest starters and mix lineups effectively on the way to the big win. It's not quite as flashy as some might hope, scoring fewer than 70 points against the 16 seed, but there are six games in a row that need to be won to be an NCAA champion. Winning the first while resting starters for half of the game is valuable, indeed.
Louisville won the opening tip, and right away, Asia Durr showed that she was prepared for this new challenge. The Cards ran their offense, worked through the shot clock, and Kylee Shook found Asia with 6 seconds left for an open three. She didn't miss it. Robert Morris was not stunned, though, as they worked open their leading scorer, Nneka Ezeigbo, for a layup underneath. Leading 3-2, it was Asia Durr again, driving the lane and nearly getting the basket and the foul. Instead, she calmly sank both free throws. The Colonials were still not ready to go down quietly, as they found Ezeigbo in a comfortable position on the block and she sank a short jumper fading towards the corner.
That Robert Morris basket came with 8:20 remaining on the clock in the first quarter. The Colonials would not score again until there was 3:37 remaining on the clock in the second quarter. Louisville's defense locked down and prevented RMU from scoring for nearly 15 minutes. The Colonials did manage to score 11 in that final three and a half minutes of the half, though it came mostly against a rotated side for the Cards. Louisville had stretched to a 32-4 lead by that point, and deep substitutes were getting some run. The Cards still managed to win the quarter 16-11 and led by 22 at the break.
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, Louisville again chose the domination route. Robert Morris kept it "close" for the first five minutes of the quarter, maintaining the deficit around 20-25 points. With 5:04 left, Ezeigbo scored RMU's final basket of the quarter, and the Cards finished the third on a 14-0 run, including a buzzer beating three by Dana Evans. The fourth quarter saw the only period in which the Cards were outscored, as the Louisville bench (primarily) played a losing 11-9 ten minutes. Durr and Sam Fuehring both sat out the entire quarter. It's not great to lose any segment to a team like the Colonials, but they were their conference champions and, to their credit, they did not roll over and stop playing hard. Robert Morris was there to play, and they showed resolve to continue to give a strong effort when the game was well out of hand.
As I said, this was a game that Louisville was able to rest starters. In fact, they were able to rest most of the team, pretty well. Arica Carter was allegedly available, but played 0 minutes. Durr and Fuehring combined for 38 points and 14 rebounds and played only 22 and 23 minutes respectively. Bionca Dunham played the most minutes on the team, and finished with only 29 minutes on the floor. Steph Norman did a fantastic job keeping the team motivated, rotating well, and got the players the rest they needed to be prepared for their next game.
I mentioned it briefly, but Fuehring and Durr deserve more credit, as they beat the Colonials on their own in just over a half of play. Durr was tied with RMU at the half with 15. Asia finished with 18 points and 3 boards. She added an assist, a block, a steal, and only turned the ball over twice. She shot 50% from the floor, 60% from three, and 4-4 from the free throw line. I think she's ready for a deep run. Sam also scored 19, had a double-double with 11 rebounds, added an assist and two blocks, while only turning it over once. She was perfect from the floor, with her 9-9 only two made baskets away from tying the NCAA tournament record for consecutive made baskets. They weren't all bully baskets, either, as her perfect shooting day included a three and a couple of jumpers.
Dana Evans and Bionca Dunham also scored in double figures, with Evans adding 5 assists and 6 rebounds to her 13 points. There is a negative from yesterday's game, though, as Louisville's other five guards outside of Durr and Evans combined for 4 points, 8 turnovers, 5 assists, and 7 fouls. To Jazmine Jones' credit, she added 3 blocks and 6 rebounds to help make up for it, but March success is about strong guard play, and although the Cards didn't have Arica Carter in this one, they'll need more consistency from everyone if they want to end up in Tampa.
The CASE Report
Louisville played a pretty rotated side for much of the game, and mixed lineups quite a bit, so some of these stats should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt, but let's see how the Cards performed statistically in the blowout.
C - Care: Louisville turned the ball over 17 times. So that doesn't sound great right off the bat. On the plus side, RMU was only able to score 6 points off of those 17 turnovers. On the negative side, RMU only turned the ball over 15 times themselves. The Colonials were very dependent on opponent turnovers this season, though, as they were 23rd in the country, forcing 20.28 per game. 17 is more than 80% of that average though, so we're going to have to award no letter.
A - Assists: Any time you turn the ball over 17 times, it's going to be nearly impossible to earn a 2.0 ATO, especially having scored only 69 points. Louisville would need to have gotten that score line by scoring 34 two point baskets and assisting on every one. That's not what happened. Louisville did assist on 15 of their 26 made baskets, though, so that's good for a lowercase 'a'.
S - Steals: Louisville earned 7 steals, which is alright, but it's below the baseline of 7.5 and tied with RMU for the full game total. Normally, that would be no letter. However, I have to go out on a limb here. Louisville blocked 6 shots in the game, outrebounded RMU by 19, and held the Colonials to only 23.1% shooting from the floor (22.2% from TWO!!). I have to give credit for their defensive effort somewhere, so I'm choosing to go rogue and do it here. Capital 'S' for an all around solid defensive effort. It's my ranking and I can do what I want.
E - Efficiency: Louisville shot 48.1% from the floor and 40% from three. That's pretty good. They didn't make the most of their free throw opportunities, shooting 11-15 for 68.8%. (Another shoutout to Sam for her 100% night and Asia and Dana for their 50% individual performances). However, as a team, the Cards only earned a lowercase 'e'.
So there you have it. In their first game of the tournament, Louisville ends with a generous _-a-S-e in the CASE Report. I've belabored the point about why that poor statistical performance likely exists, but let's hope it was put behind them. I am hoping that the nerves are out of the way and that the team is open to receiving what Coach Walz was able to see from his different perspective across the street from the Yum! Center.
The Cards will need to be back to their best efforts when they take on Michigan on Sunday, as the Wolverines absolutely housed Kansas State in the 8-9 matchup. It's a rematch of the men's 2013 National Championship Sunday at noon in the KFC Yum! Center as the women's team looks to knock out the team in maize and advance to the Albany regional.
Comerford Wins Third Straight Title
Mallory Comerford found herself setting another UofL record yesterday when she became the first performer to win an NCAA Championship in the same event three times. Comerford's win in the 200 freestyle extended Louisville's swimming and diving program streak to 8 consecutive seasons with a national champion. Comerford's time was nearly a full second slower than her record setting swim last year, but it was about a 10th of a second faster than second place, which is ultimately all that matters.
The Cards have maintained some success in this event as an overall team, holding on to fourth place going into the final day of prelims. However, a podium finish for the team looks unlikely as the Cards are 70 points behind third place. A fourth place overall finish would be nice, but they'll need to hold off a crowd, as the 6 teams behind them are all within 40 points. Action gets underway at 10AM, and can be followed by the UofL Swimming and Diving Twitter feed.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
After being held out last week for an illness, I'm back to join the other four regulars for a full house during March Madness on the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour. Tune in as we talk about all the action in the women's NCAA tournament, and you can hear everyone laugh at me as I sit squarely in a position where I could get my money back (last place) in a 300+ bracket pool at work for the men's tournament. The CCRH is brought to you by WCHQ FM and can be heard on 100.9 FM, the WCHQ App on Apple or Android, wchqfm.com, or live on Facebook. As always, we'll get things started at 11AM.
Until next time, Go Cards!