LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Louisville faces the challenge of replacing Shoni Schimmel, who has been the face, heart and soul of its women’s basketball program.
The senior keyed deep NCAA tournament runs the past two seasons. That made Schimmel popular around town, but she also enjoyed a following in the Native American community through social media.
A year after reaching the championship game, the Cardinals (33-5) fell a game short of another Final Four appearance and bid farewell to Schimmel - its No. 2 career scorer, along with Antonita Slaughter, Asia Taylor and Tia Gibbs.
Fortunately for Louisville, an experienced roster returns for its move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals hope the collection of juniors and sophomores will yield a leader on and off the floor to succeed Schimmel.
At the very least, the departing Cardinals believe the returning group will maintain the program’s success.
“It doesn’t mean that it stops now,” Taylor said after the game. “We’re going to be in a better conference next year, it’s going to be tougher competition, but I think they’ll be fine.
“Listen to coach (Jeff Walz), and everything will be good.”
Schimmel agreed with Taylor, crediting Walz and the coaching staff for developing the upperclassmen into confident contributors who helped the Cardinals post their second 30-win season in school history with both coming under Walz.
Schimmel’s ability to light it up from long range was a big reason for Louisville’s recent success, and her scoring flurry in the final 2 minutes of Tuesday’s 76-73 loss to Maryland demonstrated how she could shirt the momentum.
Schimmel shook off second-half shooting woes with 11 points - including three from behind the arc in the final 30 seconds - to rally Louisville from 12 down to the brink of forcing overtime. Her last-second attempt hit the back of the rim, but she felt good about her achievements that included selection to The Associated Press All-American second team.
“I definitely put a lot more work into my game because I wanted to be the best person I could be on the court and off the court,” said Schimmel, who scored 31 points and leaves with 2,174 career.
No one talked about who might replace Schimmel’s 17.4 points-per-game average, and Louisville has other voids to fill with seniors accounting for nearly 55 percent of the scoring and 86 percent of its 3-pointers.
The Cardinals believe it can be done if their holdovers improve their performances.
Forward Sara Hammond (10.4 points, 5.9 rebounds) and guard Bria Smith (7.4 points, 4.3 rebounds) return to Louisville’s starting lineup. Junior guard Jude Schimmel, Shoni’s younger sister, ranked fourth with 21 3-pointers this season and figures to be the perimeter threat.