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Defense a concern, but so is offense as UofL women prepare to tip off in NCAA Tournament


By Russ Brown
KyForward correspondent

LOUISVILLE — It’s not difficult to discern a theme for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team heading into this weekend’s NCAA Tournament.

As sophomore power forward Myisha Hines-Allen so succinctly puts it:

“Defense. Defense. Defense.”

The third-seeded Cardinals (25-7) will get their bid for a fourth straight Sweet Sixteen underway at 2:10 p.m. Friday against No. 14 Central Arkansas (28-3) in the KFC Yum! Center (ESPN2).

The third-seeded Cardinals (25-7) will get their bid for a fourth straight Sweet Sixteen underway at 2:10 p.m. Friday against No. 14 Central Arkansas (28-3) in the KFC Yum! Center (ESPN2) (UofL Athletics Photo)

The third-seeded Cardinals (25-7) will get their bid for a fourth straight Sweet Sixteen underway at 2:10 p.m. Friday against No. 14 Central Arkansas (28-3) in the KFC Yum! Center (ESPN2) (UofL Athletics Photo)

No. 6 DePaul (25-8) will face No. 11 James Madison (27-5) in the tourney opener at noon, with the survivors meeting Sunday for a berth in the Dallas Regional.

UofL will be playing its first game in nearly two weeks, having been upset by Syracuse 80-75 in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on March 5 in Greensboro, N.C.

That surprising loss — only the Cards’ third in their last 27 games — was the genesis of the renewed emphasis on defense. The Orange shot 42.5 percent, the best for a Louisville opponent in seven games.

“I think we would all say this at the same time: defense,” said Hines-Allen, the ACC Player of the Year. “That’s the only way we’re going to win, if we get stops.”

However, UofL coach Jeff Walz issued a slight qualification to the ‘defense is everything’ mantra in light of the Cards’ late offensive struggles and 16 turnovers against Syracuse.

“We’ve really worked on some (defensive) fundamentals and it’s going to come down to pride,” Walz says. “Everyone on our team is talented enough to defend. Now it’s a matter of are you willing to, do you have the mental toughness to get out and do what you have to do?

“So, yes, we have to defend. Defense is important, no question about it. But at the same time we’re going to have to score. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a 10-8 ballgame. We’ve also worked on making sure we execute better in the half-court on offense and value the basketball. In the Syracuse game, as poor as we played defensively, we were up four with 3:30 left and turned the ball over two of the next three possessions. You can’t do that. So those are the things we’ve really worked on, not just defense.”

On the season, UofL is averaging 71.7 points per game, shooting 43.1 percent overall and 32.6 percent from 3-point range. Five players are scoring in double figures, headed by Hines-Allen’s 17.5 ppg. The 6-foot-2 Monclair, N.J., native also leads the team in rebounding 8.4 per game, with 11 double-doubles.

Hines-Allen is shooting 54 percent from the field and 79 percent from the foul line and comes into the NCAAs on a hot streak. She registered double-doubles in the Cards’ two ACC tourney games (22/13 and 27/12) and hit 19-of-33 shots (57.6 percent).

“She’s high percentage,” Walz says. “She’s going to the glass for us. She’s rebounding. She’s scoring and doing everything she needs to do to help us make a deep run this March.”

While Louisville has played in 11 of the last 12 NCAA tournaments and 19 in all, Central Arkansas of the Southland Conference is making its first appearance in the event in their 10th season as a Division I member. So coach Sandra Rushing is hoping the moment doesn’t prove too overwhelming for her Sugar Bears.

“It’s going to be a difficult challenge,” she says. “But this time of the year is supposed to be difficult. Anything can happen in March. I want us to go in and enjoy the moment and play hard and do the things we’ve been doing.”

Walz wants his young team, which features three freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors in the eight-player rotation, to compete with a sense of urgency in the tournament.

“We’ve played plenty of games now that our freshmen are no longer freshmen,” Walz says. “Our sophomores have played tons. So the youth of this team is not an excuse. We’ve talked about it’s one and done, about the urgency you have to have. We have to be prepared, we have to take care of business. And if we do that, then I like our chances.”

Walz has been under the weather this week with flu-like symptoms and has tried to stay away from his players.

“The last thing I want to do is get any of them sick,” he says.

Thursday was the first day he had taken part in practice and said he still isn’t feeling 100 percent, but plans to be on the bench Friday afternoon.

WALZ URGING WORK FURLOUGH FOR FANS

Walz has always complemented his coaching ability with his marketing and public relations skills, and UofL’s opening NCAA Tournament game has provided another opportunity to showcase his sports hucksterism.

With the game set for a mid-afternoon tip, Waiz is suggesting an early start to the weekend for workers, asking downtown businesses to let their employees take a half-day off to attend the contest and root for the Cards.

Waiz has even offered to write an employee’s boss an emailed excuse, sort of like a doctor’s note, going so far as draft a form letter that he says he will send to any employer a fan requests. It goes like this:

“Dear_______

“The Louisville Cardinals basketball team has come to be recognized as one of the prmier programs in the nation and we could never uphold this reputation without the dedicated support of fans like__________.

“With the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament starting Friday, March 18, during the day, I would like to request permission for__________to be excused from work to cheer on the Cardinals.

“Thank you in advance for your understanding and support of the Louisville Cardinals.”

Walz says he will respond to a request from anyone who sends him a note on Twitter or Facebook. He is hoping for a full lower bowl of about 10,000 fans, but says he would be pleased if it’s 6,000-8,000. UofL averaged 9,908 fans for its 14 home games this season, tops in the ACC and third-best in the nation.

“It’s been great, the number of responses I’ve been getting,” Walz says. “I’m just trying to do whatever I can to create some buzz and get our fans to come down. Obviously, 2:30 on a Friday isn’t an ideal time. If we can get 6,000 to 8,000, it would be tremendous and tell a lot about our fan base.”


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