When Louisville women’s basketball took on Virginia just over a month ago at the KFC Yum! Center they cavalierly walked away with a 91-43 victory, Sam Fuehring walked away with a bloody mouth, and the fans walked away with the sexiest bobble head ever made.
The goal tonight in Charlottesville will be to repeat only one of those things, although admittedly a Tina Thompson bobble head would be an elegant addition to any collection. Since meeting with one another in January, the two teams have followed divergent, if not unexpected, paths. The #4 Cardinals (23-2, 10-2) extended a winning streak out to nine before dropping a tough one to Miami, while the Cavaliers (10-15, 4-8) dropped four while only managing to nab victories over fellow basement-dwellers Pitt, Boston College, and Duke.
Barring some completely unforeseen circumstance, the Cardinals should walk away with an easy victory tonight. But let’s take a look at how Jeff Walz’s squad can avoid a hangover and get back to their winning ways in the face of a rapidly approaching March.
Catch Up On Louisville vs Virginia
The Cavaliers’ junior center Felicia Aiyeotan has battled injury all season and it’s definitely been felt on the offensive side. The Nigerian standout did notch 13 minutes against Louisville in January but hasn’t seen the court since. As such, junior guard Jocelyn Willoughby has found herself pulling double duty at the key and the post. Up to and including the Louisville game, Willoughby was shooting 49.3% from three-point range. Over the next seven games she’s only managed to go 4 for 29 from beyond the arc.
But, thanks to her new duties, she’s managed to improve overall and now ranks as Virginia’s top offensive contributor. The past seven games have seen her average 18.6 points per game while also steadily improving her rebounding average. In fact, she’s notched a double-double in the past three games and four over the last five. Suffice to say, Willoughby will be a key target for the Cardinals’ defensive strategy.
Dominique Toussaint is the Cavaliers’ other offensive threat, averaging 11.8 points per game, but has struggled mightily with turnovers. Yet both she and Tina Thompson’s crew have shown steady ball-handling improvement over the course of the season. An average 16.5 team turnovers per game (including 19 against Louisville) has improved to 11.6 per game over the past seven since facing the Cardinals.
So while Virginia has certainly improved under Coach Thompson’s first year at the helm, her tutelage hasn’t been enough to force a radical about-face. Louisville should be able to apply pressure and rattle the Cavaliers. And in a rare situation where the Cardinals have a relative size advantage, we should hope to see good production from Fuehring, Dunham, and Shook. Sam Fuehring wasn’t happy with herself after her performance against Miami. Look for her to come out of the gate with guns a’blazing.
While not an eternity, it’s been just over two years since the Cardinals dropped two straight. If you had to pick a team against which to avoid that fate, Virginia would definitely be at the top of the list. The last time Louisville lost to an unranked team was 2015.
This is a Cardinals team that has time and again shown its ability to recover quickly. The Miami loss is certainly a frustrating one, but it’s nothing for which the team should be ashamed. The Hurricanes got off on the wrong foot in the first quarter, but once they adjusted their offensive scheme it was a slow yet inexorable slide towards the comeback.
In that loss, Dana Evans and Kylee Shook were doing everything they could from three-point range to give the Cardinals a chance. Their teammates managed only 14% from range. And you have to say that in a situation where Kylee Shook is forced out to the perimeter it’s impressive to watch, but something’s wrong. With Fuehring on the bench frustrated by fouls, Louisville had no answer in the interior.
But the Cardinals are still top three in the ACC in essentially all offensive categories while top five defensively. As March approaches it becomes a battle for seeding. Notre Dame currently occupies the top spot after handling N.C. State, but Miami and Louisville sit right behind at 10 and 2. The downside, of course, is that Louisville’s two losses are to Notre Dame and Miami. Kind of sucks, doesn’t it?
There’s little reason for the Cardinals to drop any of their next four games: Virginia tonight, then Boston College, N.C. State, and Pitt. They’ll almost definitely get the double-bye, and are most likely destined for the two or three seed.
But who knows? As March approaches, four games can make a lot of difference.
Louisville – Durr, Carter, Fuehring, Dunham, Jones
Virginia – #1 Brianna Tinsley (So.-G), #4 Dominique Toussaint (Jr.-G), #13 Jocelyn Willoughby (Jr.-G), #14 Lisa Jablonowski (Jr.-F), #32 Mone Jones (Sr.-F)
Date: Thursday, 24 Feb
Time: 7:00 PM EST
Site: John Paul Jones Arena – Charlottesville, VA
Radio: WKRD-790 / Video: ACCNE – WatchESPN