COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz shook his head as he walked toward the court for his game, which followed UConn's dominant victory over Stanford on Sunday.
"Wow," he said. "That's about all I can say about that."
Actually, though, Walz's Cardinals -- led by junior sensation Asia Durr -- were about to make their own statement in the second game of the "Countdown to Columbus" doubleheader.
Sure, the No. 1 Huskies are imposing, and it's hard to figure out how anyone will defeat them. But there are four spots in the Women's Final Four that will be held back here at Nationwide Arena on March 30-April 1, 2018. And while UConn seems a big favorite for one of those, several teams are in the running for the other three.
Count No. 9 Louisville among those. You would have said that even before their 95-90 overtime victory against No. 5 Ohio State. Before Durr dazzled everyone, putting up a school-record 47 points. Before the Cardinals outrebounded Ohio State 47-29.
But after all that, Louisville really has to move further into the spotlight of top teams to watch this season.
"We've been trying to get them to understand, you've got to be a physically and mentally tough basketball team," Walz said. "And I thought tonight, we showed that. It was a remarkable job by our entire team of rebounding the basketball."
Offensively, Durr, a 5-foot-10 guard, was the individual star of the day. She bested the school mark for points per game, 43, set by the great Angel McCoughtry, who did that against Providence in January 2009. McCoughtry went on to lead Louisville to the Women's Final Four that year, and was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft by Atlanta.
That's Durr's home ground; she's from Douglasville, Georgia, about 20 miles west of Atlanta. Durr can fill up the basket. She once scored 53 points in a high school game. Her previous best at Louisville was 36, set last December against Syracuse.
Sunday, Durr was 16-of-29 from the field, including 9-of-15 from 3-point range. She scored 13 of her points in overtime, when she was 3-of-4 from the field and made all six of her free throws.
"When she's on, she's on," Walz said. "And I'm challenging her to become more consistent. I want to see that every day in practice. It might not be scoring 47; it might be getting the ball to her teammates.
"I know what her goals are. And I want to make sure I do everything I can to help her reach those goals. Some days she doesn't like me, and I just put her on the list of many. But I know what I'm trying to do for her, and she was remarkable tonight. I mean, it was fun to watch."
Durr nodded as Walz talked about how he pushes her. She's the preseason pick for ACC player of the year, and had a productive offseason. She played on the U-23 team coached by Walz that won the Four Nations tournament in Tokyo, leading the Americans in scoring at 12.3 points per game.
Then she went to the USA Basketball senior national team training camp in the fall, and learned a lot from being around several WNBA players.
"It was a great experience," Durr said. "Those players know how to lead. And tonight, that's what I tried to do with my teammates. I wanted to win; I didn't care how many points I scored. I'm just so glad we came out on top."
You could contrast Louisville's smiles to the pained expression on the face of Ohio State senior Kelsey Mitchell after the game. She, like Durr, played on the U-23 team and went to the national team camp. And she also is a premiere scorer, one of the nation's best.
Mitchell had just three points at halftime Sunday, when Louisville led 41-40, but turned it on scoring-wise after the break, finishing with 26 points.
However, she missed the second of two free-throw attempts with 5 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 80-80. For the game, Mitchell was 7-of-15 from the field -- all her makes were 3-pointers -- and 5-of-6 from the line. She finished with eight assists.
"It's early, but we're veterans who've been around a while," Mitchell said of the experienced starting five the Buckeyes have. "There's a lot of stuff that we allowed to happen today that we can't allow. We know we've got a lot of the year left. We can just change some of the things that we messed up today.
"It's the defensive end. Every time we get into a big-time game, and it's crunch time, we always seem to let a defensive rebound slip. Or a 50/50 ball, we let it go. We can avoid all that. That's what we can control."
There's no doubt one of the concerns about the Buckeyes is whether they can be as good as they need to be on defense. Friday in a victory over Stanford, they controlled the boards, 64-41, with Stephanie Mavunga getting a school-record 26 rebounds. Sunday, she had foul trouble and struggled to find her rhythm, finishing with four points and six rebounds before fouling out.
But credit for Ohio State's difficulties goes to Louisville. The Cardinals were picked to finish second to Notre Dame in the ACC, perhaps as much a "reflex" choice as anything by voters, because the Irish have won the league regular-season and tournament titles all four years they've been in the conference. The Cardinals showed Sunday they're going to be a major factor in the ACC and nationally.
Louisville opened play Friday in the preseason WNIT tournament, beating Southeast Missouri 80-40. The Cardinals will play the second round Tuesday against Toledo. If they win that, they'll face Michigan in the semifinals Thursday. Texas A&M and Oregon -- which got another triple-double from Sabrina Ionescu in Sunday's victory over Drake -- already have advanced to the semis on the other side of the bracket.
"It's a challenging schedule for us to start," Walz said. "But we're going to have a lot of good film to show our players. I thought we executed and did some really nice things.
"But for us to be as good as I think we can be, we continually need to see improvements from everybody. That's the consistency that we have to get to. That's the fun part about watching UConn play. It's the same thing every day; you watch them play, and it's phenomenal. They don't take plays off. And those are things we'll show our kids: This is where we're striving to get to."