LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, everything is a bit new. The No. 10-ranked Cardinals have some experienced players, but they haven’t experienced a ton of losing.
So Cardinals coach Jeff Walz was interested to see how his team handled last Friday’s overtime loss to a talented Arizona team.
From a results standpoint, the Cards bounced back well. They rolled past Bellarmine 82-25 before a crowd of 7,014 in the KFC Yum! Center on Tuesday, the first of two home games on back-to-back nights.
“We still have a lot to learn,” Walz said. “You know, it’s kind of what I’ve tried to explain to them, there’s not one person on this roster now who’s been a part of hanging a banner out there. We were preseason ranked No. 6 because of what we’ve done in the past. And I’ve got to get them to understand everybody’s coming at you. Because we are No. 6, because of our history, because of what of what we’ve done. So you’ve got to be prepared to play. And that’s part of the growth. . . . We have a lot of significant players – what I mean by that is ones that I think are going to play a lot of minutes for us — that don’t have a whole bunch of experience with what we do here and how we do it, or for why we’ve been able to add banners out there. So it’s going to take a little bit. We’re not finished — like I don’t expect us to be 39-1 at the end of the year.”
One of those significant players is Syracuse transfer Emily Engstler, who had a double-double by halftime and finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists and 3 blocked shots in 19 minutes. She went 5-of-8 from the field and made both her 3-point tries.
“I don’t care who you’re playing, she pursued the ball,” Walz said. “She rebounded the basketball, knocked down shots. You know, I told (women’s basketball sports information director) Nick (Evans) that’s one of the things we’re going to go back and look through (a double-double in a single half). And I didn’t play her you know, like, she played 19 minutes and that’s probably right in a game like this. That’s all they need to play, especially with us playing again tomorrow night. But overall, I was just really pleased with how the first quarter went and offensively how we moved the basketball and how we shared the ball.”
Asked how it felt to have a double-double in the first half, Enstler answered, “Normal, I hope.”
Walz said he spoke to Engstler before Tuesday’s game, and the two talked about how different the expectations are at Louisville.
“I sat down with Emily before today’s shootaround and asked her for the ACC teams you all lost to (at Syracuse). Look, we’ve never lost that team. We’ve never lost that team. It did get her to understand. It’s a different mindset here. And there’s different expectations and I thought she responded great. And Chelsie Hall is same way.”
Bellarmine’s 25 points were the fewest ever allowed in a game by Louisville.
Coach Chancellor Dugan’s team, in its second year of an NCAA Division I transition, had eight players score and was able to generate 20 Louisville turnovers, but turned it over 29 times itself and managed just 6 points off turnovers.
The Knights were competitive at Cincinnati, trailing by only one at halftime and outscoring the Bearcats in the fourth quarter before losing by 13. But Tuesday wasn’t their night. Bellarmine went just 7-for-47 from the field.
“Obviously, we knew Louisville was going to be really good, really athletic, tall and have a lot of length,” Dugan said. “We’ve got to prepare better for what that’s going to be, and our seniors have to step up and take responsibility and ownership for what this team is going to be. There’s no way you’re going to be in the game when you shoot the ball the way we did and turn it over 29 times.”
Louisville got 11 points from Hailey Van Lith and Norika Konno. Ahlana Smith added 10. The Cardinals shot 52.9 percent from the field, but struggled from 3-point range, making just 5 of 21, and turned it over 14 times in the second half.
“Norika has been playing some really good basketball,” Walz said. “I thought she played really well against Arizona. Defensively she’s getting so much better, not just on the ball but off the ball. . . . She really understands concepts. And she’s shooting the ball with more confidence now. If she continues to do that for us she’s going to be able to give us some big minutes because she can put the ball in the basket. It’s somebody you have to guard. She has been a joy to coach just watching her growth from her freshman year to her junior year, just how she’s adapted to moving halfway across the world, learning a new language and then just being so far away from home especially with COVID last year not being able to go home. It was a long year. So I’m really excited for her and I think she’s going to continue to improve. I thought Ahlana also played well tonight. She’s got more in the tank that she can give us and she knows it. She she’s got to be a defensive stopper for us. She’s got to be somebody that when she gets in there, the opposing guards is like, ‘God I hope she doesn’t guard me.’ You know, that’s what she has to bring and she can, so I’m going to continue to challenge her to do that.”
Louisville returns to action on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. against UT Martin in the KFC Yum! Center.
Bellarmine will face Western Illinois on Saturday night before facing No. 23 Ohio State next Tuesday.
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