- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

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.

Said Walz about Schimmel, “She’s been extremely coachable. She’s developed her game. … Her and Angel (McCoughtry) are the two best players as of right now that have played here.”

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.

The Cardinals’ backcourt includes Monny Niamke, a quick defensive player, and Starr Breedlove.

Most of Louisville’s depth will be in the frontcourt, where Megan Deines, Cortnee Walton and freshman Emonnie Henderson were part of the rotation. Two Cardinals also return from injuries: senior Sherrone Vails, who redshirted after starting 28 of 37 games as a junior, and Shawnta’ Dyer.

Louisville has also recruited highly regarded players such as wings Myisha Hines-Allen and Mariya Moore.

Next year nonetheless poses big obstacles following up this year’s success while transitioning to an ACC featuring Notre Dame - which plays in the Final Four - Duke and North Carolina.

The seniors think their teammates are up to the task. After all, the Cardinals overcame injuries to reach last year’s title game and this group continued winning without Slaughter as she recovered from a blood clot in her lung that nearly ended her career.

Somehow, they’ll find a way to pick up where Schimmel left off.

“Once they buy in, we’ll have a special group again,” Gibbs said of the returnees. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got a lot of freshmen coming in, but we still have five seniors on the floor.

“We’ll still be a mature team with the mentality of getting to the Final Four. We’ll work.”



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