Discovery (noun / dis●cov●ery: the act of finding or learning something for the first time)
Admittedly, I am not someone who can look another UofL fan in the eye and tell them with a straight face that I am and have been a life-long die hard supporter of the women's basketball program at The University of Louisville. In fact, my recollection of following the Lady Cards only goes as far back as my college years when I attended UofL in the late 90's. In retrospective, I can barely to this day recall most of the players or coaches from that time in my life. Now, obviously, things have changed quite a bit and since those days of being a broke student, my fandom has grown exponentially in terms of my knowledge and awareness of all things linked to women's basketball at Louisville.
The emergence of Head Coach Jeff Walz onto the scene catapulted the program into unchartered territory and without warning forced me as a huge supporter of all things UofL to take notice. And take notice I did, along with a hoard of others. Being that my journey in supporting women's hoops is still relatively new, some may label me as a bandwagon fan and by definition, I suppose that would be loosely accurate. But sometimes it's better to get on the wagon at some point as opposed to never getting on at all right? And now that I'm on, I won't be hopping off. Seat taken!
Look, it's no secret that the vibe surrounding the men's basketball program at UofL is presently reminiscent of one you might find at a hospice care campus. So, after attending my first ever Louisville Women's Basketball game this past Sunday with my 11 year old daughter (her first as well), I thought it would be a breath of fresh air for viewers to have something positive to read. So here goes my best attempt to recount our experiences at the KFC Yum! Center from three days ago.
● The Game
As everyone now knows, the Lady Cards fell short against a very good and #3 ranked Notre Dame team on Sunday. But despite losing, the game was played at a very high level from start to finish. I was most impressed by the speed of the game itself. The caliber of athlete at this level of women's college basketball is astounding. The same, however, cannot be said for the officiating. For anyone who finds his or herself consistently complaining about the refs when watching the men's team play, I beg of you to attend a women's game if nothing else to see what atrocious and inconsistent officiating really looks like. Bad whistles aside, the Lady Cards faltered on Sunday because their opponent was just better for 40 minutes - no shame in that. But the game did not disappoint, and for the cost of our tickets it was arguably the best money I have spent from an entertainment standpoint in several years (sorry to the Rockettes).
● The Atmosphere
I've been to my fair share of UofL men's basketball games through the years. And it's not a revelation to anyone reading this that it's usually a pretty awesome experience. Well, in looking back to Sunday and doing some direct comparisons, I can attest to the fact that the women's game(s) also provides an equally exciting atmosphere for fans.
Like at the men's games, you have the usual UofL affiliated suspects that help provide top much entertainment: Sean Moth on the mic, the Lady Birds and cheerleaders doing their thing and the marching band providing some periodic boosts. The energy from the crowd was electric and the noise level was loud throughout, deafening at times. I enjoyed the different variety of music played during timeouts and seeing a little different mix of fans than I am accustomed to seeing at men's games was refreshing. It's always nice to see more kids at the games. And I am in no way good or bad degrading the typical men's game crowd, but it's different and satisfying.
The only thing I would ask the university to consider changing to even better improve the game day experience would be adding some folks with stronger arms or a new launching apparatus when promotional t-shirts are being propelled out to the crowd (women AND men's games). A guy like me, who can't seem to ever get tickets real close to the floor, would like a shot at showcasing my catching skills at least once! (that's a joke for all the serious readers)
● The Team
It didn't take long for me to see how and why this team had won 15 straight coming games into its match up with the Irish. As a unit, this team plays well together, has good synergy and is extremely well coached. They're focused, intense, and clearly confident that they can play with and beat anybody in the country (take that Breanna Stewart!).
Mariya Moore is a great all -around player, very polished and savvy for a sophomore. Briahanna Jackson is as gritty and scrappy of a player as anyone I watched, men or women, in some time. As a point guard, she is the perfect floor general. Asia Durr, the most heralded player to enter the women's program since Angel McCoughtry and Shoni Schimmel , is oozing with potential. She is not only fun to watch but, like the rest of her teammates, easy to pull for. The rest of the Lady Cards, at least the ones that got on the floor on Sunday, were also solid in their play.
Jeff Walz is a commanding presence on the sidelines. He's animated yet composed and very fun to watch. The players clearly respect him and have been recruited not only due to their basketball skills but also because of their abilities to take his style of coaching. It really is a matter of time from my perspective before Walz and his staff finally breaks through and wins a national championship.
March is quickly approaching. And although it sucks that the men's team won't be playing in the post season, there is still a team in our back yard that will. Here's a plea to Card Nation to continue supporting the men's team (particularly Lee & Lewis) while at the same shifting all your post season focus onto the women's team. Something tells me they would love to have as many UofL fans in their corner as possible. The future is unquestionably very bright (Walz has the #1 recruiting class in the country coming in next season) but the present can prove to be just as dazzling. Get on board now, if not already.