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The last time Louisville faced Oregon State, Cardinals coach Jeff Walz ended his night eye-level with the backboard, swinging a basketball net over his head.
It was during last year’s Elite Eight in Lexington when the Cardinals’ quickness and athleticism surprised the Beavers. Louisville won, 76-43, and clinched its third Final Four appearance since 2009.
A year later, the two teams will face off again on Friday in Albany, New York. This time there won’t be any ladders or scissors, with the game one round earlier in the Sweet 16. And Walz said don’t expect another 33-point win.
“Oregon State now having played us once being last year, it’s not going to be a surprise,” Walz said. “We’d love for the same outcome but I’m not expecting that. They are a different team but we are a different team.”
Just how different is unclear just by looking at last year’s box score. Of the 13 players who played at least 10 minutes in last year’s game, 10 are back and healthy. Gone are two of the four leading scorers in the game, Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen and Oregon State’s Marie Gulich.
Then there’s the Beavers’ leading scorer this year, guard Destiny Slocum, who sat out last year after transferring from Maryland. The former National Freshman of the Year averages 15.7 points a game in 27 minutes, and drew a comparison from Walz to former Louisville guard Shoni Shimmel.
“She’s fearless, she’ll shoot it whenever she’s open. Just knows how to play the game,” he said. “So she’s added a little more to them at the guard spot but then they return a lot of those guards from that team that obviously went to the Elite Eight. If you’re getting to the Sweet 16, then you’re a pretty darn good basketball team.”
The No. 1 seed Cardinals (31-3) are also getting the No. 4 Beavers (27-4) after the Beavers survived a pair of close games against No. 13 Boise State and No. 5 Gonzaga in the opening two rounds. They won those games by a combined 11 points.
With Slocum in the fold, Hines-Allen gone from patrolling the interior, and the battle-tested nature of this year’s Beavers team, Walz said his team will adjust its game plan from a year ago, despite the blowout win.
“I’ve always been impressed with the way he coaches,” Walz said. “We’re going to try and counter each other, and try to figure out what we can do to have success, and he’s going to be doing the same thing. We’re both not the types of coaches that will just stick with one thing if it’s not working. No, we’ll both change up often.”
Rueck said he too took a look at last year’s gameplan to see what went wrong. His evaluation was that the Cardinals did a good job of pressuring the basketball, forcing 17 Beavers turnovers, compared to only three at the other end.
“They sense weakness, and any time you demonstrate that, they came after us,” he said. “Looking back at that film and even this week reflecting on it, I don’t think I did a very good job in putting us in position to be successful in that second half, in particular, and it was just one of those games that got away from us.”
He called Louisville’s leading scorer, Asia Durr, “unreal.” He said Durr, who averages 21.3 points a game, just one of the reasons the Cardinals are again dangerous.
“They’re outstanding in the open court, and yet they execute well in the quarter court,” he said. “When you take everything away and there’s three seconds on the shot clock, they can throw it to one of the best players in the game, and it’s really difficult to keep her from getting a good shot off.”
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” she said. “They’re going to come out on fire. They’re going to come out with a bad taste in their mouth from last year. So it’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re going to get their best shot, so we have to be prepared for that and play our game as well.”
Between Friday’s rematch, speculation connecting Walz to the now-vacant Tennessee job, and a potential matchup with UConn looming in the Elite Eight, Walz has had plenty to talk about throughout the week.
But he ensured his team will be focused – even if he’s not – when the teams take the court for the 9:30 p.m. scheduled start time on ESPN.
“We know it’s going to be a great game on Friday night, if I’m able to stay up for the second half,” Walz said. “It’s not like these kids are in bed by 9:30. I might be, but they aren’t.”