Michigan and Louisville’s last meeting was in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, when the Cardinals beat the Wolverines 71-50 to advance to the second round. The blowout loss will surely serve as motivation for this year’s rematch, especially for the seniors who were freshman at the time.
The No. 12 Wolverines will travel to the KFC Yum! Center to play No. 10 Louisville Thursday night at 7 pm.
The Cardinals are coached by Jeff Walz, who — in his 15 years with the team — has kept Louisville as a perennial powerhouse. Under Walz’s leadership, the Cardinals have made three Final Four appearances and missed the NCAA Tournament only once. Additionally, Walz is the winningest coach in program history, with 390 wins, and will coach his 500th game at Louisville on Thursday.
After an overtime loss to Arizona to start the season, the Cardinals have won five-straight games. These wins have come over weak non-conference teams, but Louisville is still a formidable opponent for Michigan.
The Wolverines’ offense will be faced with a tough task, as the Cardinals rank second in the nation in scoring defense. Louisville holds its opponents to 29.9% shooting, and it ranks fifth in opponent field-goal percentage.
The Cardinals’ defense is anchored by forward Emily Engstler, who leads the team in defensive rebounds, steals and blocks, with 39, 12 and 12 respectively.
“They’re, (one of) the best scoring defensive team(s) in the country,” Michigan assistant coach Carrie Moore said on the Michigan Basketball Radio Show. “They’re holding teams to 42 points per game, which (one of the teams that) leads the nation. We’re going to have to work and handle their pressure and try to get by them and throw the ball inside and play inside out.”
The Wolverines will try to get the ball to senior forward Naz Hillmon, who is averaging 21.8 points per game, good enough for seventh in the nation. Louisville will emphasize putting the pressure on Hillmon, but this is something that she is all too familiar with.
While strong defensively, the Cardinals have struggled offensively, scoring 67.8 points per game, which is ranked 145th in the country. Guard Kianna Smith leads Louisville in scoring with 10.2 points per game. Other than her, the Cardinals lack many offensive weapons.
“I think they’ve got some pieces that they’re still trying to figure out,” Moore said. “They’ve only got one kid averaging over double figures right now. And they play in about 10 people over 10 plus minutes. So I think (Walz) is just trying to figure it out and see who’s good on what night.”
The Wolverines hope to take advantage of this, as they are holding their opponents to 52.1 points per game, ranking 30th in the nation. Michigan’s defense is led by senior forward Emily Kiser, who leads the team in defensive rebounds and blocks with 45 and eight, respectively. Hillmon is also playing strong defense, averaging double-digit rebounds for the second-straight season.
The Wolverines are off to a hot start. They’re coming into the game with momentum after a successful Daytona Beach Invitational, in which they beat No. 23 Oregon State and Mississippi State. Michigan has started the year with a 7-0 record, the second consecutive season remaining undefeated through at least the first seven games.
This will be the sixth matchup all time between the two programs. Louisville is 4-1 against the Wolverines overall. They will be hoping to even out the matchup with this game.
“We know that (non-conference games) are going to prepare us for the NCAA Tournament to make the Sweet Sixteen and beyond,” junior guard Maddie Nolan said.
With Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico fresh off her 200th win at Michigan, the team will hope to continue its early success against the Cardinals.
“It’s gonna be a great matchup and I cannot wait for that,” Moore said.