Louisville fans got to relish a last chance to see seniors Asia Durr, Sam Fuehring and Arica Carter play at home Sunday. It's a class made up of both superstar talent and dogged determination, three players who've all brought their strengths to a program that has just one goal left to attain: win a national championship. The Cardinals took one more step toward that Sunday, as Albany's No. 1 seed beat eighth-seeded Michigan 71-50 in the second round of the women's NCAA tournament.
The Cardinals saw the return of guard Carter, who had missed the ACC final and the NCAA tournament opener with a leg injury, along with coach Jeff Walz. He was suspended for the first-round game Friday because he was a little on the salty side complaining about officiating last year in Louisville's national semifinal loss to Mississippi State.
The Cardinals, who had no problem beating Robert Morris 69-34 without Walz, played exactly how he asked them to from the tip Sunday. Their defense forced Michigan into 17 first-half turnovers that Louisville converted to 23 points in the first half.
"I thought we came out and set the tempo of the game," said Walz, whose team is making its ninth Sweet 16 appearance since he arrived in 2007-08. "We got the tempo that we wanted. We did a nice job. It was just a great team effort."
With a 38-26 lead at halftime, the Cardinals didn't look back. They were even better defensively in the third quarter, holding Michigan to just six points. The Wolverines dominated their NCAA tournament opener, 84-54 against Kansas State. But Michigan, which will return young stars like Naz Hillmon next season, looked like a different team against Louisville. The Cardinals have that effect on teams, especially when they are clicking on both ends of the court.
Durr, the two-time ACC player of the year and an espnW first-team All-American, led the Cardinals with 24 points. Fuehring, who injured her ankle in the ACC final, went 4-of-5 from the field for 10 points after going 9-of-9 for 19 in the opener. Carter struggled with her shot after being out two weeks, going 1-of-8 for two points, but she had seven rebounds and helped bring the energy that Louisville relies on.
"She brings poise and composure to our team," Walz said of Carter.
Junior Jasmine Jones had 15 points and sophomore Dana Evans 10 for Louisville (31-3). But it was a day for the senior class, which is 122-22 in its time at Louisville and is seeking a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
"It's been fantastic," Walz said of coaching his seniors. "I'm trying to not get emotional. They are great kids; I challenge them every day."
The seniors exited with just less than 2 minutes left in the game, and when it was over, all kissed the court at the KFC Yum! Center and took a victory lap. It was a sweet goodbye to the building where they have had so much success, but now it's on the Sweet 16.