CARDS RANKED NO. 5 IN COACHES POLL
With the top four scorers from last season returning, the University of Louisville women's basketball team comes into the new season with a lofty ranking.
The Cardinals have been tabbed No. 5 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, trailing only Connecticut, Duke, Stanford and Tennessee.
The Cardinals finished last season 29-9 and lost to UConn in the national title game after knocking off then No. 1 Baylor, Tennessee and California along the way. U of L beat four consecutive higher ranked teams in making the title game.
U of L coach Jeff Walz has five seniors, the team's four top scorers back and three former starters – Tia Gibbs, Asia Taylor and Shawnta Dyer – who were injured last season – all returning to the team.
U of L ended last season ranked No. 3 in the coaches' poll.
WALZ WORKING AROUND NEW RULES
Walz said the women's basketball programs – like the men's did last year – had new rules on when the season could start.
The Cardinals started 40 days before the opener – which is next Saturday – and have 10 days during that time where they must take a day off.
Walz said he's been making sure his team has enough rest.
"We tried to do a really good job of making sure give the girls time off," he said. "We started back on September 30th and went Monday through Friday and then gave them Fall Break off so they had a chance go home and we came back on a Tuesday night. We got back going then took a Saturday and Sunday off two weeks in a row. We tried to give them two days here, two days there just to make sure we don't wear them our early."
CHANGE IN CULTURE FOR CARDINALS
U of L has been to a pair of NCAA Final Fours – both ended in a title game loss to UConn – under the direction of Walz.
The Cardinals also lost the Huskies in the 2009 NCAA title game with Angel McCoughtry leading the way for the Cardinals.
Walz said there's been a change in the culture since then around the program, including more of a dedication from the players and fans.
"And that's something you have to give all the credit to the players for because I remember when I was hired here seven years ago, sitting with Angel McCoughtry, Patrika Barlow and Candyce Bingham," Walz said. "They were asking me questions before I was hired and Angel's first question was, ‘How are you going to get us to the Sweet 16?' I told her it's not me, it's you and that' what really took place.
"We came in here as a staff and got them to believe they had more inside of them than they thought. It was our job to get the most out of them and we have been able to do that, I just hope it continues."
Walz said his program has turned the corner in recruiting and now other coaches are even looking at U of L in a different light.
"What it has done for us now is when I got the job here, everybody recruiting against us was saying ‘Oh, Jeff is a nice guy and will do a nice job.' I don't think anyone expected us to get to the final four in ‘09 and after that it was like, ‘Oh, well he had Angel McCoughtry - one of the top five women's players in the world - and anybody can do that'" Walz said. "But then we go back this year and now it's like they don't say anything about basketball part.
"Now, they're talking about academics this and academics that and where the school is located. It's been fun. We've seen programs and coaches start to get desperate when we are recruiting certain players. We have been really fortunate to recruit some great kids and great families that take the time to get to know us first, our program and the university and then they come here on campus and are just shocked, they're so impressed at how nice the campus is."
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
The U of L women will play an exhibition game next Tuesday at 11 a.m. against Pikeville and then open the season on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. The men's team also have the opener on Nov. 9 at 1 p.m.
"It's kind of like the high school schedule," Walz said with a laugh. "The JV game always comes before the varsity game."