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Sports >  National sports

Jeff Walz and Louisville hope to beat UConn twice in season, Oregon seeks first Final Four apperance

UPDATED: Sat., March 30, 2019, 6:20 p.m.

Louisville head coach Jeff Walz holds a basketball before passing it to one of his four children  after a team practice  Saturday March 30, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. No. 1 seed Louisville faces second-seeded Connecticut in the regional final Sunday in Albany. (Kathy Willens / AP)
Louisville head coach Jeff Walz holds a basketball before passing it to one of his four children after a team practice Saturday March 30, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. No. 1 seed Louisville faces second-seeded Connecticut in the regional final Sunday in Albany. (Kathy Willens / AP)
By Doug Feinberg Associated Press

Jeff Walz knows that it’s extremely rare for a team to beat UConn twice in a season. Only one school has done it over the past decade and that’s Notre Dame.

He hopes to join his ACC counterpart in that small club when the Cardinals face the Huskies on Sunday in Albany, New York.

Louisville has confidence after beating the Huskies in January. It was the Cardinals’ first win under Walz after losing 14 against their former Big East foe.

“I think it’s really important. I think that just to have that knowledge of, ‘Hey, we can do this, we’ve done it in the past.’ They were at full strength when they came to our place. And at the same time, you can’t be overconfident,” Walz said. “I’m sure it’ll be out there somewhere, but when is the last time someone beat them twice in one season? Was it in ’13 maybe? Did Notre Dame beat them twice in ’13? It hasn’t happened very often.”

Actually, the Fighting Irish twice beat UConn in the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

A win on Sunday would be Louisville’s second straight trip to the national semifinals. UConn will be trying to extend its record Final Four run to 12 consecutive years. It’s a streak that coach Geno Auriemma thinks is remarkable.

“It’s probably something that should be impossible to do in the real world of competitive sports,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “It should not be possible to go that many years in a row. And it’s going to get much, much more difficult each and every year from here on in.”

UConn will be trying to reach Tampa, Florida, as a No. 2 seed for the first time since 2006. Walz said his team was the underdog despite the higher seeding. Betting lines concur with UConn a slight favorite. Auriemma found the whole thing amusing.

“Any time I hear these stories, I get a kick out of it. You know, I mean, I don’t remember the last time we’ve been an underdog,” Auriemma said. “Can anybody remember that, the last time somebody said Connecticut is the underdog? So maybe he’s going by that. We’ve just been the favorite so often. But I think we’re sitting on the wrong bench tomorrow, though, if we’re the favorite. They need to change the benches. And I think we’re wearing the wrong uniforms.”

Oregon seeks first Final Four

Veteran Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne weighed in with her prediction for Sunday’s Elite Eight game between second-seeded Oregon and No. 1 Mississippi State in Portland – and she gave the Ducks the advantage.

Turner Thorne offered her take following the Sun Devils’ 76-53 loss to Mississippi State in the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament. She had already seen the Ducks twice this season as a Pac-12 Conference foe – both losses.

“I’d give the edge to Oregon. They’re both great rebounding teams. Oregon has the best backcourt in the country, in my opinion. They’re going to take care of the ball. They’re going to get their shooters the shots that they need,” she said.

But Turner Thorne also offered apologies to Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer.

“Sorry, Vic,” she said. “Back the Pac.”

In December, Oregon handed Mississippi State one of its two losses this season, ending the Bulldogs’ streak of 46 consecutive regular-season nonconference wins. The backcourt of Sabrina Ionescu and senior Maite Cazorla was a big reason why, and they’ll need to come through again for Oregon (32-4) to make its first Final Four.

Ionescu is Oregon’s leading scorer, averaging 19.6 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game. She has 18 career triple-doubles, an NCAA record among men and women, including eight this season and one in Oregon’s second-round victory over Indiana.

In Friday’s 63-53 victory over South Dakota State in the Sweet 16, the Pac-12’s Player of the Year had 17 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

The Ducks are playing in the Elite Eight for the third straight season.

“Ultimately, we are trying to win this game, and we are trying to get further than we have these last couple years, at least with this core group. I think that’s what’s going to separate us as a more mature and veteran group. I think we want to get better, we want to do more than we have in the past,” Ionescu said.

Mississippi State (33-2) went to the NCAA title game in each of the last two seasons, falling to champions South Carolina in 2017 and Notre Dame last year.

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