Louisville celebrates top seed but knows there’s still work to do

Potential rematch with UConn looms for Cardinals in Albany

LOUISVILLE, Ky – A few hours before he was to learn his team’s seeding in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Louisville coach Jeff Walz started receiving text messages from his friends saying the pairings had already been released.

Walz’ players heard, too. Jessica Laemmle sent a group chat to her teammates with the news, and around 4 p.m. ET, Dana Evans saw her teammate’s news. She went on Twitter and there it was: her team earned a No. 1 seed.

“We wanted to be a one seed, and I think we deserve the spot,” she said.

By the time ESPN2 broadcast a pushed-up reveal show at 5 p.m., Walz had already started watching video of Robert Morris, the Cardinals first-round opponent on Friday.

So, when Louisville coaches, players, staff and fans gathered at Cardinal Arena for what was supposed to be the bracket unveiling, the only suspense remaining was how Walz’ young daughters would try to steal the spotlight when their dad was being interviewed on live national television.

The premature reveal may have dampened the crowd a bit. The on-campus arena holds about 1,000, and that’s how many fans school officials were hoping to attend. Still, about 600 showed up – some more than an hour before the doors were to open – and celebrated the Cardinals second consecutive No. 1 seed.

“I think it just speaks volumes about our fan base for the love that they have for women’s basketball,” Walz told reporters before the event started.

Louisville might have a top seed, but the Cardinals still have a tall task ahead of them. They’re in the Albany region, which is in the backyard of No. 2 seed Connecticut, which has made every Final Four since 2008.

The two teams have already played this season, with the Cards beating the Huskies for the first time in 26 years.

Walz noted that when the official announcement was broadcast, it presented a motivational opportunity for his team. Broadcasters announced the Albany region first, but after Louisville was named the No. 1 seed, they showed highlights of the Huskies.

After the other three regions, the other No. 1 seeds got the highlights. He said maybe ESPN thought it was the Huskies who would get the top spot.

“I think it’s a little bit of like, ‘Hey, this is what they think of you,’” Walz said. “And now we have to go prove everybody wrong.”

In preparing for her final NCAA Tournament appearance, senior guard Asia Durr said she tries not to get too caught up in things she can’t control, like where the Selection Committee ended up assigning her team.

“I just want to know when we’re playing and who we’re playing,” the All-American and Player of the Year candidate said. “It’s just part of the game. You obviously don’t get to pick where you’re going to go.”

Without Walz, Louisville faces Colonials in the first round

First up for the Cardinals is Robert Morris. Louisville will be without Walz, who must serve a one-game suspension for comments he made during last year’s Final Four loss to Mississippi State. Associate head coach Stephanie Norman will coach UofL on Friday, and Walz said he’ll likely “find a place that serves a good brunch” and watch the game on television.

In watching the film on the Colonials, the champions of the Northeast Conference, Walz noted that they’re an extremely young but very balanced team that averages about 63 points a game.

“We don’t want to get caught playing their pace,” he said. “So, we’re going to have to try to speed things up.”

As a one seed, Louisville finds itself in the upper tier of college basketball teams and one of the few schools being discussed as a possible champion. However, the Cardinals know that pool is expanding as Walz and Durr said this was the deepest field they could remember.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “The amount of talent you have. The amount of teams that can score. As long as I’ve been in college, I’m impressed with how many great teams there are out there. So, it’s like, ‘Are you serious?’ Anybody could win a title this year, and I think that’s what makes it so much exciting to watch.”

That’s why getting back to the Final Four may be a challenge, even for a team that returns four starters from last year’s Final Four squad. If the Cardinals win both games at home this weekend (Michigan and Kansas State are the other teams in UofL’s pod), Louisville could face fourth-seeded Oregon State in the Sweet 16 in Albany.

This year, the Beavers, who lost to Louisville in last year’s Lexington regional final, have been in or on the cusp of the top 10 for most of the season.

“You have to be ready to play every night,” Evans said. “It could be an upset anytime.”

And if there’s not a rematch with Huskies in the Elite Eight, then it might be third-seeded and Big Ten regular-season champ Maryland standing between the Cards and Tampa.

Last year, Louisville saw its quest for a third national championship appearance end a game early with a bitter defeat to Mississippi State in overtime. Two days later, the Cardinals saw Notre Dame – a team they beat twice last season – win it all.

Both Durr and Evans said the team has learned from the painful loss to the Bulldogs.

“You think about it all the time, but this is a new year,” said Durr. “You get another chance to play. You try to put that behind you, but of course, you’re going to think about it from time to time. We just learn from that game.”

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