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Friday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

Beat South Carolina.

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Spread Check: South Carolina by 8.5.

—Here’s the official U of L preview for tonight’s game in Minneapolis.

—All four of ESPN’s women’s college basketball writers have picked South Carolina to beat Louisville.

—U of L is out to prove all the experts wrong tonight at 7.

—Let’s get it, ladies.

—Jeff Walz’s Cardinals are used to being underdogs in spots like this. Can they pull off another shocker?

—Eric Wood is the guest on the latest episode of the From the Pink Seats podcast.

—Eric Crawford writes about the “unique character” that is Jeff Walz.

Walz may or may not walk away with a national championship. But hearing words like those from your players is even more meaningful.

“It meant a lot to me what took place after that game,” Walz said. “The wins are awesome. It’s great to win. But for them to say what they said and show the raw emotion that they showed, yeah, it was probably more rewarding than winning that game on Monday night.”

Listen to Walz on the sidelines during games and you’re likely to hear anything. “I can’t coach stupid,” is a frequent one.

At the same time, he’ll stand a cheer a missed shot, if the execution on offense was good.

“If players know you care about them off the court and if you know what their dreams are and you’re trying to help them reach their dreams, you can challenge them. You can challenge them. And I challenge them,” Walz said. “But they know as soon as practice is over, it’s over. We don’t carry stuff with us. I think that’s why we’ve been able to have the success that we’ve had. And it’s not only with our basketball results, what we do on the court, but I think it’s with what our players are able to do in our community and then what they do after they’re finished.”

Beneath it all, the guy can coach basketball. There’s a reason Louisville players voice so much confidence about their game plans – including their plan for South Carolina tonight at 7 in the first national semifinal. It’s because they’ve seen those plans work.

—Bob Huggins is about to be a Hall of Famer.

—One reason why each team in the men’s Final Four can win it all, and one reason why each team could flame out.

—Former Cardinal and current Dodger Will Smith got booed at a spring training game yesterday, presumably just because his name is Will Smith.

—If you live in the Denver area, there will be a Final Four game watch tonight at Blake Street Tavern (2301 Blake Street, Denver, CO 80205).

—Jeff Walz is not a PTI fan.

—Anonymous coaches dish on each one of the men’s Final Four teams still standing in this Athletic piece.

—This is pretty cool.

—Ellis Myles has been named the new head boys basketball coach at Fern Creek.

—I went on the Spinsters podcast to talk about the men’s and women’s Final Four and participate in a draft of Kentucky things. You can listen to the episode here.

—The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker writes about the 10-year anniversary of the Louisville-Kentucky Final Four game in New Orleans, and ends it with a few quotes from your faithful narrator.

In the end, much sweat but no blood was shed that night in New Orleans.

“It was the perfect storm for there to be as little animosity as possible after the game,” Rutherford says. “Louisville was competitive and could walk out of the Superdome saying, ‘It was just your year. Nobody has an answer for Anthony Davis. Congrats, because you’re probably going to win the whole thing.’ And Kentucky fans could say, ‘Wow, that was the best test we’ve gotten all tournament. Next year is probably your year (and it was, as Louisville won the title in 2013).’ I think that’s the only reason there weren’t fights all over Bourbon Street, because both sides kind of walked away feeling good about what happened. If Louisville wins, though, you’ve got knock-down, drag-out fights. People don’t leave the Superdome alive. Kansas-Ohio State becomes a sideshow because people are just stabbing each other in the stands. It would’ve been absolute anarchy.”

Duke-North Carolina seems like a slightly less vicious rivalry — although even Kidd-Gilchrist says it is a better one, in terms of tradition and competitiveness. But what happens if Carolina spoils the K Show again? What if, gasp, the Tar Heels are ungracious again in doing so?

“If Louisville had won, our fans would’ve celebrated way too much,” Rutherford says, “and Kentucky fans would’ve been so vulnerable and so angry, they would’ve had no choice but to respond. If you’re a New Orleans police officer, that’s the disaster scenario. Anyone who cared about that city was rooting pretty hard for Kentucky — but not to win by too much, because then they would’ve made a big show about it and Louisville fans would’ve been wounded and cornered. To avoid a nightmare, to not have blood in the streets, you want exactly what happened. Because I really do think if Louisville had won that game, it would’ve gotten pretty ugly. Pretty legendary, too, though.”

You would think that these quotes would be easily identified as being heavy in exaggeration for effect, BUT APPARENTLY NOT.

You’d also think that nothing would shock me after a billion years on the internet, but I have to admit that the amount of people who read this and genuinely believed that I thought there would be stabbings all over the Superdome if Louisville had won took me by surprise.

Jalen Thompson, a 4-star defensive line prospect from Michigan who is believed to be a Michigan State lean, is visiting U of L today.

—This is wonderful.

—The latest episode of the Cardinal Sports Zone podcast is here.

—The official menu for the 148th Kentucky Derby is out.

—The U.S. Men’s National Team has qualified for the World Cup and seems to have drawn a fairly favorable group that includes England.

—In his latest newsletter, Jeff Greer writes about the example that the Louisville women’s team has set for the next era of the men’s program.

Think about it this way: If you read this newsletter, you’re probably a pretty big Louisville fan. You live and die with defensive possessions and runs and last-second shots. You want your team to be fun and you want your team to be good. But most of all, and this is my long-running theory about fan psychology in general, deep down you want your coaches and your players to care as much as you do, to live and die with those same defensive possessions and runs and last-second shots, to wake up every morning absolutely determined to work harder and prepare better than your opponents. This is why Louisville fans, for all his flaws, loved Rick Pitino — he cared a whole helluva lot more than anyone else.

A lot of teams – have you seen Pitt play the last seven years? – in no way put off the vibe that they care. They fold during big runs. They yell at each other. They complain a bunch. The coach throws players under the bus. You know what it looks like because it happens so often.

But the teams that crave victory, that crave dogged preparation, that crave big moments, that crave the next challenge — those teams win fans over during their magical runs. They make you so fired up you well up with tears or let out a guttural scream after a big play. They make you care even more, because that’s how much they care.

That is exactly what this Louisville women’s hoops team does. It’s so much fun to watch. And it’s the perfect example for the men’s team to follow as the program rejuvenates itself.

—Every single NCAA champion, dating back to the initial professional basketball draft in 1947, has had one or more players who would be considered the equivalent of a modern-day first-round draft pick. This points to either Duke or Kansas cutting down the nets in New Orleans on Monday night.

—Scotty Davenport announced this week the launching of a new foundation that will help Bellarmine basketball managers pay for their school tuition.

—Love this guy and this program.

—No one nationally is talking about Louisville when they talk about the women’s Final Four. People have noticed.

—Mykasa Robinson gave her blessing to Jeff Walz bringing Emily Engstler in from Syracuse. In the process, she helped the Cards take a step forward that led them to this Final Four.

—Hailey Van Lith has a fan in Donovan Mitchell.

—As always, Harry is the man.

—There is mounting buzz that recent LSU decommit Devin Ree (2022) will be the first U of L commit of the Kenny Payne era.

—Shannon Ryan of The Athletic seems to be the only national writer giving Louisville much of a shot against South Carolina.

Who will be the star of the Final Four?

Shannon Ryan: Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith. She’s a feisty, trash-talking, high-scoring guard. If Louisville pulls off an upset against South Carolina, it will be because of Van Lith’s dynamic play. She’s the first Louisville player to score at least 20 points in four straight NCAA Tournament games … and the only player in this tournament to accomplish that feat. Van Lith, the Wichita Region’s Most Outstanding Player, is an aggressive defender and loves to get out in transition with her teammates. And she entertains in press conferences. Everyone will know her name by the end of the week if Louisville handles business.


Who’s winning, Louisville or South Carolina?

Shannon: This is a tougher pick than I imagined after covering Louisville in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. I had picked South Carolina all along to win the national championship. I know South Carolina’s defense is rated the best in the nation, and it’s truly impressive. But Louisville is so disruptive on inbounds passes, under the basket, lobs – the Cardinals are just constantly going after the ball. They’re essentially a pack of killer bees swarming anyone who touches it. Emily Engstler’s length has a strong defensive impact, and Van Lith’s scoring ability is hard to stop. If South Carolina hits an offensive lull like it did earlier in the tournament — an obvious goal for Louisville — this will go the Cardinals’ way.

—I couldn’t be rolling my eyes harder at these stories of “super fans” balancing their weddings against Saturday’s Final 4 games. Louisville could be picked to finish dead last in the ACC, and there’s still not one U of L fan I know who would schedule their wedding for F4 weekend.

—Chelsie Hall earned her March moment during Louisville’s Elite 8 win over Michigan.

—You’re always going to see HVL near the top of these lists or graphics.

—Angel McCoughtry is in Minneapolis for this big weekend.

—The Athletic’s men’s college hoops writers are all mostly in agreement that Saturday’s Duke-UNC Final Four game will be a bigger deal on the court than the Louisville-Kentucky meeting 10 years ago, but that it won’t be able to match the madness off the court.

—In the middle of celebrating a Final Four berth and a regional MVP award, Hailey Van Lith still made it a point to spend some time with some girls high school basketball players who idolize her.

Louisville sophomore superstar Hailey Van Lith was cradling the regional championship trophy, surrounded by confetti, when she heard her name off in the distance. She glanced over and saw a pack of 15-year-old girls shrieking her name from the front row of the stands.

No one would have thought twice if Van Lith ignored the yells to continue her celebration.

But in the moments after scoring 22 points to lead her team to the Final Four, being named Most Outstanding Player in the Wichita region and delivering a post-game interview to the ESPN cameras, Van Lith chose to leave the celebration to hop over the barrier, even with a limp, to take pictures and chat with a group of local teenagers she didn’t know.

“I think I owe it to them. I was in their spot not long ago and if I was them, I would hope that the player would come over to me and take a picture,” Van Lith told The Eagle. “In today’s world, it’s easy to have a selfish mentality and individual mentality with social media and all of that. But it’s so much bigger than that. I really feel like God built me to inspire young girls through basketball and this is my meaning on this Earth and I’m going to hopefully give it up to him in the end and maybe inspire those girls to do something big.”

Two of those girls were Destiny Smith and Naomi White, a pair of sophomores who are up-and-coming players on the Derby girls basketball team that recently played in the Class 6A state championship. They both have Division I dreams of playing college basketball and they aspire to be like the Louisville players they watched on Friday and Monday.

Even before the Cardinals were assigned to the Wichita regional, the girls said Louisville was their favorite college basketball team to watch.

“I’ve been watching Hailey play since she was in high school,” White said. “I love watching her play. She’s so good. I love her so much.”

These are the types of things that help programs not just get to the top, but stay at the top.

You can see the video of HVL going into the crowd and taking a picture with the girls here.

This LA Time story says that if you watch the Women’s Final Four, you will see the Kobe Bryant Legacy living on through HVL.

—If the Cards are going to have any shot at winning tonight, they’re going to have to find a way to slow down Gamecock star Aaliyah Boston.

—And finally, beat South Carolina.