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Hoopaholic’s Gazette: Final Four Final Four Weekend

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Okay, pretend for a moment you know nothing about basketball, you know nothing about U of L hoops, or rivalries, or even are aware it is the season’s glorious capstone weekend.

You’re walking through a mall, say, Oxmoor, on your way to ask some Apple t-shirted acolyte how to delete a spam message on the new iPhone your daughter gave you for your birthday.

You’re walking by, oh, H & M, and see a couple college aged girls, laughing at something, punching each other in the upper arm as buddies do when they are giving each other congenial shit.

The shorter one, though still kind of tall, has a rounded face, blonde hair braided and a birth mark on her cheek.

The other, a few inches taller, has a face that looks to you, an elder, like she could be 14 or so, but you know that’s not true just by the way she’s acting.

Then you notice a basketball court tatted on the calf of the taller one.

Hmm, that’s odd, you think, wonder if she/they play basketball at some school around here?

One should not be deceived by the veneer of their outward appearances. Baby faces can be most deceptive.

They do play basketball. They give no quarter on the court. They will cut your soul out, chop it into pieces, sauté it, then wash it down with some Chianti.

Plus, you won’t be seeing either at any mall in Louisville this weekend.

Hailey Van Lith and Emily Engstler are in Minnesota, leading their Louisville Cardinals in a national semi-final against South Carolina, generally considered the best squad in the land all season, with the best player, Aliyah Boston.

Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks may win as expected. Or the Cards may go Muhammed Ali and “surprise the world” as Jeff Walz’s Cards did when HVL’s and EE’s forerunner Shoni Schimmel taught that season’s best team Baylor and best player Britney Griner a thing or two about what redline intensity can accomplish.

But, what we know is this.

Van Lith and Engstler and their mates shall be fully extended for the full 40, and beyond if necessary. Coach Jeff Walz will have a tweak or two up his sleeve that Carolina won’t be expecting.

This is a Final Four of the Nation’s Elite, the nation’s blue bloods.

UConn. Stanford. South Carolina. And the University of Louisville Cardinals.

* * * * *

OK, my usual mea culpa when talking about this U of L hoops squad. I love ‘em. I am legitimately nervous this April Fools morn in anticipation of tonight’s tip. But, truth, I haven’t followed them with the same focus and intensity as their male counterparts, even though they’ve been clearly superior.

Thus, I can’t break the game down, talk about matchups, things to look for.

I do know this. There might be some ballers on the court as intense as HVL and EE.

But none more so.

* * * * *

When watching the women’s FF, know there are a bunch of alternatives to the main telecast. Including one on the U or Deuce maybe, which will be Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi riffing during the telecast.

Advising in case Rebecca Lobo’s laugh is starting to get to you, like it is me.

* * * * *

There’s another Final Four this weekend.

If you hadn’t heard, it includes a couple of long time rivals, schools situated six miles apart on Tobacco Road, who have played each other hundreds of times.

But never before in the Dance. Never before with so much as stake, with so many extenuating circumstances. Coach Whatisname’s last hurrah. How arch rival ruined his farewell party.

Because of the similarities, there have have been several pieces written nationally about a local rivalry you are aware of whether a hoops fan or not.

U of L met UK in the ‘12 semi-final, also contested in that Dome in New Orleans. (They also in the ‘83 regional final, which was of significantly more import, for reasons everyone reading here understands.)

While that ‘12 game was huge, it was at least for me, not quite so.

My team was never going to win that game. Yes, the Cards knotted it up halfway through the 2d. But, hear me now and believe me later. Or not. Kentucky was always going to prevail.

That was a Cardinal team on the cusp. (They captured the crown the following season.) But weren’t quite ready to close the deal.

The Cards finished the regular season 22-9, losing three of last four to Cincy, Syracuse, and, gulp, South Florida.

Then they got on a run, capturing four in the Garden to win the Big East. Frankly, it was out of the blue. Russ Smith wasn’t even a starter, Chris Smith was. The Cards, ranked as high as #4 in December, fell out of the polls in February, before working their way back up the ladder.

Then U of L beat Davidson, New Mexico, Michigan State (by 13) and Florida to make it to the last weekend.

Kentucky had only lost twice during the year. That buzzer beater in Bloomington. Inexplicably to Vandy in the SEC tourney. Wildcats opened their tourney run in Louisville. My impression when they were warming up: These are your national champions.

So, alright, there are some similarities, but, at least in my mind, Duke vs. North Carolina has a different feel.

Villanova and Kansas shall also compete.

Just six fascinating tilts left.

— c d kaplan