Once again, the Louisville women’s basketball team is clicking along like clockwork.
The Cardinals began last season by winning their first 20 games en route to a 36-3 record and Final Four run — and have chalked up 12-straight so far to begin 2018-19. Louisville is ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll and opens Atlantic Coast Conference play with North Carolina (9-5) on Thursday, Jan. 3, at 7 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center.
“It’s an exciting time,” says senior guard Arica Carter. “We’re finally about to start conference play, and our conference is so tough every game — every night it’s a big game for us.”
Which is just the way Carter likes it. Always a new adventure on the horizon.
“Just thinking about where this team could go, and what we could do, it’s crazy — but I’m excited to see what we actually do,” says Carter, a 5-foot-8 play-making guard from Long Beach, Calif.
January is packed with challenges for Louisville. After North Carolina, Louisville plays at Duke Sunday, then Notre Dame in South Bend next Thursday. Notre Dame is the defending national champion and currently ranked one notch ahead of Louisville.
Top-ranked Connecticut visits UofL on Jan. 31.
But Carter doesn’t expect her team to get caught looking ahead, when it seems to find each step along the path so darn interesting.
“This first game with North Carolina, it’s going to be good to see where we are, where our mindset is coming off Christmas break,” she says.
‘Our one weakness — and everybody knows it’
The Cardinals could be a bit rusty, having last played Dec. 20 when they edged Central Michigan 72-68 in a game on the Chippewas’ home court that came down to the final seconds. Louisville’s All-American guard Asia Durr hit 26 of her 31 points in the second half, including the last 11 for Louisville.
Carter says Central Michigan showed Louisville its weakness.
“Our team is … I think we’ve done a lot of great things,” says Carter. “We’ve showed that we are great in a lot of areas. We’ve been taking care of the ball very well. Our shots we’ve been hitting, which is great. What we’ve got to fix is our rebounding. That’s our one weakness -— and everybody knows it.”
Central Michigan out-rebounded Louisville 37-32 and grabbed critical caroms in the closing moments. “Our butts are getting kicked on the glass,” Durr said after the game. “There has to be improvement on that.”
Despite its glittering record, Louisville is averaging just three more rebounds per game than its opponents.
“Unless we fix it, people are just going to attack us in that area, and that’s not what we want,” says Carter. “Rebounding is definitely our biggest weakness right now.”
Louisville has good overall size but lacks the player-after-player team tallness of Connecticut, or a big center, like Mississippi State’s 6-7 Teaira McCowan, who scored 21 points with 25 rebounds to end Louisville’s NCAA tournament run in the semi-finals last season.
UofL graduated just one senior last year, but that was its top inside talent, 6-2 Myisha Hines-Allen, who’s now with the Washington Mystics in the WNBA. Louisville hasn’t yet found a one-player replacement.
“I think that’s one of our toughest issues right now is figuring how to make up for Myisha’s rebounding,” says Carter. “I think we will in time finally fix that and find people to go rebound and fix the things we are missing.”
Singeing the nets
But Louisville isn’t missing much. The Cardinals are averaging 85.7 points per game, fifth best in the country, with Durr eighth individually at 22.5. Six others are adding seven points, or better, including Carter at 8.8 ppg.
Louisville often plays with a three-guard offense, with speedy guard Dana Evans joining Durr and Carter. Evans has 53 assists.
Carter arrived at college without a three-point shot, and she’s now an effective outside shooter. She’s judicious with her three-point shot selection and leads the team with a .447 percentage.
But Carter’s primary role in Louisville’s scoring success comes as an initiator of the Cardinals’ high-octane passing offense. “A.C.,” as she’s called by teammates, plays with her head up, sees the floor, sees what’s aboutto happen.
“I have to pay attention to those things and know those things,” says Carter, who was a top-tier high school recruit on a state championship team at Long Beach Polytechnic High. And she’s totally tuned to team play at Louisville.
“Coming here and being a point guard, I’m learning the importance of communication, and leading, and stepping up when people need to be stepping up,” she says. “It’s just become a part of me, and I love it.”
Carter hopes to be a coach or possibly a sports psychologist after graduation.
“I don’t want to be a sports psychologist for multiple sports because I personally know a lot about basketball and what comes with it,” says Carter. “I’ve had struggles with it, and I’ve talked to a sports psychologist. That’s really what made me want to go down the route of this field is because she helped me so much.”
A team going places
Of course, Louisville Coach Jeff Walz offers his own brand of sports psychology — and it’s obviously working.
“He talks about mental toughness — doing things when you don’t want to do them, or making sure you do the right thing every time,” says Carter. “It’s always easy to take a break this ‘one time,’ but in order for us to win and be great, we can’t take those breaks. We have to be mentally tough enough to push ourselves to do the right things every time.
“The biggest example of that is rebounding,” she adds. “We have to box out every time, but we don’t. He definitely talks about that a lot.”
But Carter is confident Louisville will be able to form a committee to get on the boards, or find a sidekick for center Sam Fuehring, who leads the club with 6.2 rebounds a game. The Cardinals will get that done, Carter says, because Louisville is a team going places.
“I mean, we are,” says Carter. “We’re trying to get to a national championship. In order to get there, we have to beat these teams and kind of knock them down. That’s the goal.”