- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. | Jeff Walz remembers drawing up what turned out to be the signature shot of Maryland’s 2006 national championship run. Known simply as “the shot” to Maryland faithful, Kristi Toliver’s 3-pointer over Duke center Alison Bales will forever live in Terrapins lore.

Marissa Coleman would set a screen for Toliver, receive a pass, then pass back to Toliver after the point guard came off a screen set by Crystal Langhorne.

“They never switched it, so she just continued to go,” Walz said. “But that’s who we wanted to shoot the ball, so that’s who we drew it up for.”

For two hours Monday, all that will be put aside when Walz directs third-seeded Louisville against the top-seeded Terps at RBC Center with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

“There’s going to be a lot of emotions flaring and a lot of bragging rights on the line,” Coleman said.

As Brenda Frese’s top assistant from 2002 to 2007, Walz was an integral part of reviving the program. His attention to detail helped mold the Terps into an offensive juggernaut; the support he gave Frese in recruiting Toliver and Coleman certainly helped, too.

“It’s going to be a fun game,” Coleman said.

Walz has made an immediate impact on a program that, despite regular-season success, always seemed to hit a wall in the NCAA tournament. He guided Louisville to a 26-10 record and the Sweet 16 last year, capturing the Maggie Dixon award as the nation’s top first-year coach.

He has followed that by taking the Cardinals to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. And he has done it all with a roster that doesn’t feature a high school All-American.

“We work them. We develop players,” Walz said. “We really take a lot of pride in that, and we stress that we have to be the tougher team on the floor.”

The linchpin of Louisville’s success is All-American Angel McCoughtry, whom Waltz first got a look at while still at Maryland. The Terps were heavily recruiting the Baltimore native, but she spurned them after Coleman signed with the Terps because McCoughtry thought they would compete for playing time.

Walz said McCoughtry was raw coming out of high school, but she quickly developed into one of the nation’s top players. She is Louisville’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder and has forged a strong relationship with Walz.

“I can take criticism; I’m tough,” she said. “So when Jeff gets on my case about stuff, when we disagree about something, I can take it. And at the end of the night, he’s my coach, and it works.”

That approach helps Walz get the most out of his players. He is best known for his trademark “mad dog” defense, a collection of fullcourt presses that has Louisville holding opponents to just 56.9 points a game. The defense is aptly named for a coach whose intense instruction leaves a resounding impact on his pupils.

“He made me tough,” Coleman said. “He’s a very sarcastic guy, but he’s intense. He could yell at me and bring tears to my eyes. But at the end of the day, I knew he was trying to make me a better player, and I could still go to him.”

Echoed Toliver: “Coach Walz showed me a different side of me that I hadn’t found. He was very intense with me; he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’s very blunt, very bold with his approach towards his players, and I was able to learn a lot from him about how to respond to certain situations.”

That same hardiness can be seen in the Cardinals. They quickly became a force in the Big East, finishing second in the conference this year after a fifth-place finish last season. They only lost to two conference teams this year: undefeated Connecticut twice and a home date with West Virginia that Waltz took the blame for because he ran lighter practices than usual in the days before.

Louisville has won 11 of 12 games since. Walz said he has followed the Terps’ late-season run of 15 straight wins, and he keeps in contact with Coleman. But once the ball tips Monday, there will be no misconceptions about what matters most.

“It’s about getting to the Final Four, so all the relationships and emotions that are involved have to get kicked out of the window,” Coleman said.

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