BOULDER – Coaches want no part of living in the past and Linda Lappe likes her present address just fine, thank you. What’s not to like anyway? Her Colorado women’s basketball team is unbeaten (9-0) and ranked No. 11 in the weekly AP top 25 and No. 14 in the USA Today Sports/WBCA (coaches) poll.
But even if residing in the past is taboo, revisiting it is acceptable – which Lappe is doing a little of this week. Her Buffs leave for Louisville, Ky., on Friday to play the No. 7 Cardinals on Saturday. It’s a holiday rematch that both programs and their fans have been anticipating.
Last December, the Cards made the trek west, visiting Boulder on Dec. 14 and leaving with a 70-66 loss. At the time, Louisville was ranked No. 8, and CU’s win marked its first against a top 10 opponent since the 2002 season. As a result, the Buffs moved into the top 25 the following week, entering the AP poll at No. 25.
From then until now – or for 21 consecutive polls – CU has been ranked, marking the women’s program’s lengthiest run since a streak of 27 straight poll appearances from Jan. 22, 2001 through the last poll of the 2001-02 season.
Lappe likes the attention for her team, but truth be known, she’s as much into polls and rankings as she is into taking long looks back. Which is to say, not very much. But Lappe concedes there are several points worth reviewing from the Buffs’ 2012 win against the Cards, starting with Louisville guard Shoni Schimmel’s lack of points.
Entering the Coors Events Center with a 12.1 point average, Schimmel was held to four points on 2-of-12 shooting. The defensive lockdown was accomplished primarily by Brittany Wilson, who said this following the game: “I knew I wanted to shut down an All-Big East All-American. I had the team's help. It was just a great thing to be able to shut her down and not let her score in the first half and not let her score until the last four minutes of the game. It was a great day."
One of them could have a great Saturday. Schimmel is back, Wilson is back. Schimmel is averaging a team-high 14.7 points this season, and I’m guessing she has had a few challenges tossed her way – including several from herself – for the rematch.
If the Buffs clamped down on Schimmel in Boulder, they had no such success against her backcourt partner. Antonita Slaughter scored a team-high 19 points, grabbed five rebounds and made two steals. She and Schimmel were primed for their senior years until Slaughter was diagnosed earlier this month with a blood clot in her lung that will sideline her for the rest of the season.
But Louisville will have a key player in Saturday’s lineup that was missing when the Cardinals came to Boulder. A death in her family prompted 6-2 forward Sara Hammond’s absence in last season’s game, and Louisville undoubtedly missed her. She’s now averaging 11.0 points and 6.5 rebounds (tied for the team high).
Is Slaughter’s absence and Hammond’s return any kind of a tradeoff for the Buffs?
“Who knows?” Lappe said. “Hammond is a good player . . . they do a lot of things for her to be able to score. She’s a tough matchup for most teams because she’s inside/outside. She can shoot the outside shot, she goes inside, she’s strong. Yeah, she’s a tough matchup but so is Slaughter. It’s just a shame for her about the blood clot, but they’re still really solid without her.”
The Buffs held the Cardinals to 36.4 percent shooting from the field last season and limited them to only three 3-pointers in 19 tries. Schimmel has hit 34 of her 91 trey attempts this season (37.4 percent) and among CU’s goals this weekend will be to not allow Schimmel to “go off” from beyond the arc. Or, said Lappe, simply “keep her from average in terms of her scoring. But she does so much more for them – she’s a great passer and she provides fire for them . . .
“When it comes down to it, she’s going to be a key to the game, for sure, as is Hammond. But they have a lot of players who can score. They’re very much like us. At the end of the day it’s not about one player for them or for us. We’ve got to do a great job of defending all of their players.”
One of the reasons for Louisville’s low field goal percentage here last season was CU center Rachel Hargis making it difficult for the Cardinals to reach the rim. The 6-4 Hargis blocked a career-high seven shots to go with her seven points. Said Lappe: “That’s how it’s going to have to be this time – don’t let them get anything easy, make them work for everything inside.”
At game’s end, after CU had watched a 13-point lead evaporate in the final 3 minutes and Louisville had crept to within 68-66 in the last 11 seconds, the Buffs needed a superb Jen Reese put-back of a missed free throw to escape. Reese finished with 11 points and this season is one of four Buffs averaging in double figures, with a team-best 13.5.
Since returning from a one-game absence after suffering a smack to the head/face that broke her nose, Reese has averaged 17 points in her last two games. She’s wearing a protective mask, something she wasn’t counting on this season after spending last season in protective goggles after suffering a broken orbital bone.
But, said Lappe, Reese has accepted misfortune and moved on, even personalizing her mask. “She’s named it ‘Jason,’” Lappe said with a laugh. “She can’t catch a break . . . her face is a magnet, I think. The good thing about Jen, though, is that most people dread wearing a mask. Jen can see ten times better in the mask than in the goggles.
“I think she looks at it as being better than the goggles. They’re not fogging up all the time, she can see, they’re not in her line of vision. It’s all how you look at things, I guess. I’ve been really impressed with her maturity in wearing the mask. Most players would feel sorry for themselves, they don’t like how it looks – all those things. She’s really stepped up the plate and become a mature kid in looking at the mask as something she has to wear to play. I know she would rather not wear it, but she understands it’s a necessary evil.”
Already nationally ranked as opposed to last December, the Buffs don’t need a win Saturday to initiate a climb into the top 25. Still, it would be an undeniable resume builder for March and the NCAA Tournament.
Lappe will acknowledge that much, but adds, “It’s still early in the season; we’ve got the whole (Pac-12) conference season to go. So a lot of things can happen. We try not to put one game ahead of all the others in terms of what’s at stake. We try to keep every game in perspective. Louisville will do that with this game as well. It’s kind of what women’s college basketball is all about . . . you’ll have two good teams playing before Christmas.
“But we won’t look at it as a make-or-break game for us. If we win, it’s not going to make our season, if we lose it’s not going to hurt our season. But we will learn a lot, and that’s important at this time of the year – learning who you are, starting to learn your strengths and weaknesses . . . it’ll give us a different look at some of those things that maybe we haven’t been able to see quite yet.”
One of those things will be a crowded, hostile house. At 9-1 with its lone loss to rival Kentucky (69-64), Louisville is averaging 7,622 and has drawn crowds of 8,099 for LSU and 10,045 for Florida State. Lappe expects more than 10,000 on Saturday to show up and shower the Buffs with holiday warmth – or something to that effect.
“It’s going to be a good environment. They’ll have a lot of fans . . . it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be fun,” she said.
Whatever else it’s going to be, well, that’s up to the Buffs.