There are numerous ways to gauge the strength and pedigree of the Louisville women’s basketball program.
Step 1 would be the Cardinals’ postseason resume under coach Jeff Walz, which shows seven trips to the Sweet 16 in the past 10 years, including two runner-up finishes. Louisville has seen five players drafted into the WNBA; the team is also averaging 26 victories per season in his 10-year run.
But the key indicator is just this simple – the Cardinals have been picked as a preseason Top 10 for 2017-18 in multiple national polls despite the point guard position looking very much up for grabs on the eve of the season. It’s a rare day when a powerful machine is praised despite questions about its engine.
Ultimately, voters and fans are simply comfortable trusting how the players and Walz will solve the mystery. And it will probably require a blending of skills, from freshmen to those returning from injury to anyone else who has a handle on ballhandling.
“There are different ways to play with different combinations on the floor; that’s what is exciting. How to use personnel, whether to go fast or slow things up, when to change tempo – we have the talent, and we can play a variety of ways,” said Walz, whose team kicks off its season Nov. 10 at the Preseason WNIT, playing at home against Southeast Missouri. “I’m excited for what I’ve seen so far. Arica Carter started as sophomore and missed last season with an injury, but she is playing extremely well. She knows the game, understands the game – I sense that sitting out and sitting toward the front of the bench and listening to the staff was of great value to her.”
Carter started 29 games in 2015-16 and was a plus in terms of assists vs. turnovers but didn’t score much. Walz has a chance to wreak havoc with a scoring point guard in 5-foot-6 freshman Dana Evans (Gary, IN), the No. 9 incoming recruit from the HoopGurlz 100 who averaged 35.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 4.8 steals as a senior.
And there’s an insurance policy like no other in 5-10 junior Asia Durr, the preseason ACC player of the year who averaged better than 19 points per game and was third on the team in assists. In the right matchups and situations, she can run the point, as long as Louisville still finds her for 3-point looks (she hit 199 last year at a 40-percent clip).
Durr will likely be leaned upon early, as the team is still getting used to the absences of Briahanna Jackson (127 assists, graduated) and Mariya Moore (175 assists, transferred to USC).
“Asia Durr has played some point; she’s more of scoring point guard but she sees the floor better and can set up her teammates,” Walz said. “Dana Evans is picking things up quick for us, and I’ve been impressed with her transition to the college game. She provides quickness and scoring that we haven’t had in a while from that spot.”
“We have guards who can play the 1 or the 2. Dana is not a taller 2, but she is a scoring point guard,” Durr added, noting the team’s overall goal of cutting down on turnovers. “She can pass and score the ball; I can play the point with Acie … we have lots of versatility. You never want to give the ball to the opposing team, and it means even more now in college. Turnovers mean less chances of scoring, which means you might get your butt kicked. We as a team … it’s day-by-day, new for the freshmen, so they are still adjusting. We upperclassmen will do a great job of bringing them along and showing them the way.”
Durr’s stellar campaign last year earned her a chance to train with the US national team over the summer; the honor served a lot of purposes but on greater than showing Durr she had fully conquered the groin injury that nearly sidelined her for her freshman season.
“It was a great experience; it wasn’t fast to the point where I couldn’t keep up. WNBA players don’t play out of control like other players do; it’s under control, more physical than college, less dribbling and more passing up the court,” Durr said. “Everyone likes to play that way, fundamentally sound. Kelsey Plum was great, Skylar Diggins, Sue Bird – I didn’t talk a lot with Sue, but she was very helpful on the court, showing people how things are done, where you don’t jog anywhere and always go hard. Everyone knows how to play ball at that point; during the second and third day it becomes mental because everyone is tired. I tried to follow her lead.”
Walz emphasized how much he appreciated Durr’s work habits, which not only helped her recover from the injury but has helped set the proper tone within the locker room. She agreed that showing up for extra work and developing her skills has been a natural outgrowth of her love for the sport, to the point where she laughed when asked to recall the year she began to pull away from most competition.
“It all seems like it went by fast. I took it step by step, day by day … there was no specific age, I just kept playing ball,” Durr said. “I never realized how blessed I was; I was just in the gym all the time. I wouldn’t be satisfied, and I always thought I could do more. It was never something where I thought, ‘Damn, I’m special!’ I stayed in the gym.”
Walz has a nice interior piece in Myisha Hines-Alllen, a 6-2 senior forward who averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per contest and will provide welcome stability for a roster with eight freshmen and sophomores. Other than that, the Cardinals will aim to know more about themselves by season’s end and be ready for the variables of postseason competition.
“I tell our players and have told them for 11 years, once you get to the Sweet 16, it’s a bounce here or a bounce there, are you having a good shooting night? A lot of factors take place, and it’s not one thing,” Walz said. “You’ve got to value the basketball and understand the importance of every single possession when you get to that time of the season. You have to be playing your best basketball, and unfortunately for us we haven’t done that lately. We have to do a better job in the halfcourt, that’s the No. 1 priority, cutting down turnovers and getting more possessions on the offensive end.”