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March 3, 2014
Louisville women host No. 1 UConn tonight
It is the biggest home game for the Louisville women's basketball team this season and a rematch of last year's national championship game. Shoni Schimmel and the senior-laden No. 3 Cardinals (28-2, 16-1) square off against the unbeaten and top-ranked Connecticut Huskies Monday at 7pm in the KFC Yum Center.
Last year's "Party Crashers" have turned into "Party Planners" and are one win away from a share of the American Conference title and positioning themselves as a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Connecticut women's basketball team has been the premiere women's team for the last 20 years. In that span the Huskies have averaged nearly 34 wins a season, including four perfect seasons and eight NCAA national championships.
Under coach Jeff Walz, the Cardinals have been to two NCAA title games and are trying to establish their program to be a perennial powerhouse like UConn.
"We had Angel McCoughtry. We go to the Final Four," Walz said. "We have some injuries that following year and we go 14-18 and everybody was starting to question (us)... 'Ok, Angel is gone. Candyce (Bingham) is gone. What are they going to be able to do? I think this class has really showed that 'Hey, this is going to be a program.' And now with what we've been able to do recruiting wise, it's not just one or two teams that come through here, it's something that is established and we plan on being a top five or ten program for years to come."
St. Patrick's Day in 1993 was the last time the Cards beat UConn (74-71), and since then it has been 14 straight double digit losses including a 81-64 loss less than a month ago at Connecticut.
So what is it going to take to be different this time? Coach Walz pointed out last game against Connecticut it was a five point game when Louisville missed a couple of open shots and the Huskies superstar Breanna Stewart converted a pair of three pointers pushing the lead to 11 before halftime.
"It's going to take us playing as well we have played all year," Walz said. "We're going to have to make open shots".
Senior Asia Taylor led the way with 18 points in the first meeting hitting 7-14 from the filed including some crucial elbow jumpers, but the Cardinals were missing starting guard and McDonald's All-American Bria Smith the last time the two teams played.
Monday night is the last regular season home game for Schimmel, Taylor, Tia Gibbs and Antonita Slaughter. These seniors have overcome a lot of adversity
Schimmel has become a role model to thousands of Native Americans across the country by leaving the Umatilla reservation and becoming a successful college star. UofL is expecting up to 1,500 from possibly as many as 42 different states to be in Louisville to watch her regular season final home game.
Taylor broke two bones in her ankle as a senior in high school causing her to miss her first season, and she has battled knee and hip trouble last season and this season to be playing the best basketball of her career right now.
Gibbs, from Louisville's Butler High, has battled multiple injuries that have kept her out of the last two years, she but fought back to have a senior season. She is as much of a competitor as you will find on the court.
Slaughter, from Louisville's Christian Academy of Louisville, has returned to the court after the scary scene in December when she collapsed on the sideline. Walz said Just to see her healthy is a blessing, but for her to be back on the court draining three-pointers after having a blot clot is remarkable.
Walz said it is going to take a total team effort for the upset. Schimmel agreed,"We have to use our advantages. We have to run the court and use our depth to win. They have advantages and we have advantages. We have to play to our strengths."