There have been some memorable bullfights in 11 seasons of head-to-head battles between Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz and his Kentucky counterpart Matthew Mitchell.
You might expect Walz to highlight last season, when his Cardinals handed the Wildcats an 87-63 loss in Lexington that was an outlier among the typically close Bluegrass rivalry matchups.
But instead, Walz picked the 2013 game where Kentucky roared back from a 14-point deficit to upset Louisville, 48-47, and snap the Cardinals’ unbeaten streak.
“We’re up four with a minute left, and we foul a 3-point shooter in the corner; they make all three free throws,” Walz recalled. “We go down, get fouled, make one of two. And then the last thing you want to do is give up a three and we give up another three.”
Louisville (9-0), ranked No. 4 in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll, is again unbeaten heading into Sunday’s clash with No. 19 Kentucky (9-0) at the KFC Yum Center. It is only the second time both teams have met undefeated since Walz and Mitchell took over their respective programs in 2007.
That means each team is poised for heartbreak Sunday, even more so than usual in a series that carries an undercurrent of pride and prestige.
Kentucky holds a 34-19 edge all-time in the rivalry, but Louisville has a 13-11 record at home. This season is the sixth ranked matchup in the Walz/Mitchell era.
“It just speaks volumes of what we’ve been able to do here at Louisville, what Matthew’s been able to do there at Kentucky to have great basketball teams,” Walz said. “It’s a new game. We sit there and win the first two, then they win one, we win one, they won five now we’ve won two. Each game presents something different.”
In this season’s edition, fans can expect an up-tempo, high-scoring game.
Kentucky tore through a competitive field in the 2018 Paradise Jam, upsetting then-No. 17 South Florida, beating UCLA in overtime and completing a fourth-quarter comeback versus North Carolina.
Louisville used a buzzer-beating layup to beat then-No.19 Arizona State in Las Vegas and has hung 100-plus points on opponents three times this season.
There are national spotlights on Asia Durr and Maci Morris, sure, but each team has a stable of stars in waiting and reliable role players.
For Louisville, junior posts Kylee Shook and Bionca Dunham have been instrumental alongside backup guard Dana Evans. For Kentucky, freshman Rhyne Howard has emerged to lead the team in scoring and rebounding while senior Taylor Murray contributes double-figure scoring as well.
Louisville’s scoring offense ranks eighth in the country with 87.1 points per game. Kentucky forces 26.9 turnovers per game and ranks first in the nation in turnover margin.
One team will leave the Yum Center on Sunday having relinquished a perfect record, although history indicates that does nothing to prevent a run in March.
“We understand the importance of this game, don’t get me wrong. Everybody does,” Walz said. “(But) your season’s not going to be made on a win or a loss on Dec. 9. You can learn a lot about yourself and make some improvements and get better.”
Take that 2013 matchup, for example. Louisville went on to appear in the program’s second national title game.
“And then,” Walz said, “we continued to get better. We got smarter. We made better basketball plays during crunch time and then we figured out a way to get to the national championship game. I personally don’t look back at that and go, ‘Man, if I take that win instead of getting to a Final Four…’ But you take these games and learn from them.”
Source: Courier Journal