Unlike their encounter last season in Storrs, when the Louisville Cardinals fell behind the Huskies 19 zed, Jeff Walz’s team was up to the task last night in front of a huge, raucous crowd at the Yum!. The battle was knotted 21 all after the 1st, during which U of L ace Asia Durr had clanked her four FG attempts, netting none.
Crystal Dangerfield’s trey hoisted the rarely denied Huskies into a single digit advantage early in the 2d.
At which juncture, it must be assumed Ms. Durr decided “enough is enough.”
Fourteen seconds later, smothered by two taller defenders beyond the arc at the left FT line extended, Durr somehow launched a bomb that bullseyed. 26-24.
A half minute later to the nanosecond, she drained another three. 29-24.
A minute later, it was again string music Louisville, Kentucky. 32-24.
The interlude was redolent of Tonight’s the Night for the Cardinals.
And so it came to pass. Increasing its margin in the 2d, then the 3d and in the 4th, the University of Louisville and Jeff Walz are no longer ofer UConn.
As we are wont to say under such circumstance, the game wasn’t that close. Despite some tweedly FT woes late, the visitors never got closer than 6, after Dana Evans drained a threeball to open U of L’s scoring in the last.
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Durr tallied 21 of her team high 24 in the 2d and 3d.
Sam Fuehring was a 10/12 fiend in the middle.
Jazz Jones’ 13 points, 12 boards and 4 assists were important. So too her catalytic energy.
Dana Evans matched her sidekick’s 5/10 marksmanship from long range, and dished out 4 assists to complement her 20 points.
But let us also praise Arica Carter, whose baby face belies her strength and competitiveness. Her main job for the evening was checking Huskies half a foot taller or more, including national POY candidate Katie Lou Samuelson, who is 8 inches longer.
Samuelson was held scoreless in the 4th.
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There is an eery familiarity to the rise of U of L Women’s Basketball during the reign of Jeff Walz.
A big, unexpected W here and there through the years. Victories that appear turning points at the time. Several empty-handed trips to the Final Four.
If you were around in the 70s and 80s for the ascendency of the men’s program under Denny Crum, you know what I’m talking about, you might feel the deja vuishness of the situation.
Angel McCoughtry and mates, sneaking their way to the title game, as Bacon and Price et al surged to the Final Four. But falling to UConn, the lodestar of ladies hoops, as the men were dispatched by the éminence gris Bruins.
The iconic image of Shoni Schimmel screaming in Brittany Griner’s face, when the Cards perpetrated what is considered the biggest heist in the history of the sport.
(That the feat was more than somewhat overshadowed that day by U of L’s beatdown of Duke in the NCAA regional and Kevin Ware’s infamous shattered leg is typical of the lack of pub that plagues the women’s game.)
The distaff Cards again in another title tilt were upended by another Geno Auriemma juggernaut, reminding the Red & Black Faithful of that gruesome afternoon in San Diego, when the Cardinals fell again to iconic John Wooden’s mighty mighty Bruins on the last weekend of that season.
As those men’s teams from the halcyon days registered harbinger wins along the way to their spot in the upper echelon of the sport -- Ohio State early in that first championship season -- so too have the women shown signs of greater successes to come.
That dismantlement of Baylor that turned the Bears’ cranky coach, certain of a title, apoplectic in defeat. Last season’s evisceration of eventual national champ Notre Dame in the Yum! was almost impossible to comprehend. So too the hurtful OT defeat in the national semis.
Yet there was an inevitability to last evening, when the Asia Durr/ Dana Evans/ Sam Fuehring/ Jazzmine Jones/ Arica Carter-led Cardinals finally beat Auriemma and Connecticut, and did so in a manner that underscored it was not a fluke. In a measured manner that confirmed U of L is the better team.
Yesterday, before the game, I was chatting with a pal about to attend his first women’s game. I opined about how this year’s squad, minus Myisha Hines-Allen, seemed a contributor short. That the loss of transfer Yacine Diop to injury might provide an insurmountable barrier to being considered a legit championship contender. I offered that this edition of the Cards seemed not quite as potent as last year’s.
I was wrong.
This morning after I thought of the men’s team I consider Denny’s best, the ‘82-’83 gang that fell to Phi Slamma Jamma. And of that flawed ‘86 squad that won it all. And how sometimes, the best versions aren’t the ones that achieve their goals.
Ofttimes less is more.
Meaning, after last night’s assured victory, I shan’t sell this scrappy version of Jeff Walz’s vision short anymore.
-- Seedy K