#3 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals
Start time: 1pm
TV: ESPN2 | Internet: WatchESPN | Commentators: Tiffany Greene (pxp); Debbie Antonelli (analyst)
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia | Live Stream: Gamecock IMG Sports Network | Commentator: Brad Muller
It’s been a pretty big weekend for Gamecocks athletics already, but it continues this afternoon at 1pm in Springfield, Massachusetts as we get a look at two potential Women’s Final Four teams. In one corner, it’s Dawn Staley and her third-ranked South Carolina team, and in the other corner, it’s Jeff Walz and his fourth-ranked Louisville Cardinals.
They both started coaching at their respective schools at around the same time: Walz in 2006 and Staley in 2007. Their paths were a little different, though: Staley had parlayed a successful collegiate and professional career into a strong coaching career, working in her hometown of Philadelphia to build Temple into a tournament mainstay before resurrecting a underachieving South Carolina program. Walz, a Kentucky native, started coaching in secondary school before assisting at several D-1 programs and finally getting his first chance to lead a program when he took the reins at Louisville. All he did in his second year was lead the Cards to the national championship game, and although they were smoked by UConn, it was clear that he was one of the up-and-comers in the profession.
Walz and Staley’s paths have converged since then: when Staley was putting together her staff for the United States U-19 women’s team, one of her calls was to Walz. Really, their job was to maintain the dominance that the U.S. had enjoyed in the tournament, where they’ve won six straight gold medals. But the two had never faced each other on the hardwood until today - the last time these programs played each other was 25 years ago. I have a sinking feeling that it will be far less than 25 years before their next meeting.
The Cardinals are led by Asia Durr, the #2 overall player in the country in 2015 according to espnW. After averaging 11 points an outing in 31 games (two starts), she’s come out of the gate averaging 19.7 points a game and 49% from three point range. But when you’re a team like Louisville, you have the luxury of having a number of players that can hurt you at any given time. All-ACC first-team member Mariya Moore drops 12.2 points a game, while the team’s top rebounder, Myisha Hines-Allen, like Moore an an All-American honorable mention, is almost averaging a double-double thus far (10.0 ppg/9.0 rpg). If the Gamecocks let those three get loose, it’s going to be a long afternoon.
One thing that I noticed about the Cardinals is that their offense hasn’t been as dominant as South Carolina’s. But their defense more than sets the tone. In their first six games, the Cards have held opponents to an incredible 55.3 points a game. Sure, those opponents were UT Martin, Belmont, Middle Tennessee, Bowling Green, Lafayette, and Chattanooga, but 55 points allowed a game is pretty good. Another stat that’s also pretty good: 151 forced turnovers. Chattanooga (19) is the only team to turn the ball over less than 20 times against Walz’ defense. Two opponents have turned it over more than 30 times: UT Martin and Bowling Green (32). If the Gamecocks are to win this game, they must value the basketball. They’ve done it so far (49 turnovers in four games thus far) but it’s critical they continue that trend against the Cards’ stingy defense.