Whenever his team hosts first-round games in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz likes to invite opposing coaches out for a drink and a bite to eat.
Believe it or not, Boise State coach Gordy Presnell was the first one to take Walz up on the offer.
While Presnell’s 16th-seeded Broncos ended up being eliminated by Walz’s top-ranked Cardinals 74-42 last March, the networking led to a rare opportunity for the Broncos this season.
Over the summer, Walz was looking to complete the Cardinals’ 2018-19 nonconference schedule and discovered the Broncos also were in need of a game. Walz then made the call to Presnell, and the two agreed to a home-and-home series over the next two seasons.
That series starts Monday night when Boise State (3-0) hosts No. 5 Louisville (2-0) at 7 p.m. in Taco Bell Arena. The Cardinals are the highest-ranked women’s team to play in Boise, matching No. 5 Georgia’s visit to the City of Trees in 1998. There are still tickets available, starting at $6.
“It’s normally a little bit of a surprise (to other teams). You’re willing to come here?” Walz said. “I’m just a big believer that I’d rather find out early if my kids are capable and mentally tough enough to play on the road.”
Under Walz, the Cardinals have advanced to three Final Fours and appeared in two national championship games. They feature one of the best players in the country in 2017-18 ACC Player of the Year Asia Durr, who is averaging 28.5 points and shooting 54.3 percent from the floor and 48.0 percent from deep. Durr also was chosen as a preseason All-American.
“We have to be able to stay with them, and then when they make their big push, we’ve got to be able to hold that off a little bit,” Presnell said. “It’s going to be hard. They just score in bunches. The same thing happened to us in the tournament. We were down 10 at the half and the third quarter they lit us up.”
Although the Broncos are the clear underdogs in Monday’s game, they still have plenty to gain from the matchup.
Boise State has advanced to the NCAA Tournament three of the last four seasons, losing in the first round each time. If the Broncos obtain a better seed, they could land a first-round matchup on a neutral court.
A competitive performance against Louisville could go a long way toward that goal.
“This is honestly really a once in a lifetime thing for our women’s program, to get a Final Four team here,” Boise State guard Braydey Hodgins said. “What’s even better is we’ve played them before, so we’re not going to be shell shocked. I think it will be a fun competition on Monday night.”
Boise State is 2-37 all-time against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Both of the Broncos’ wins over ranked teams came during the 1993-94 season when they beat No. 15 Western Kentucky 75-71 and No. 20 Montana 70-61.
Their win against the Hilltoppers helped the Broncos crack the AP poll, and they debuted at No. 23 on Jan. 11, 1994. They stayed in the poll for the final 10 weeks of the season, climbing as high as 17th. It remains the only season in program history the Broncos have been ranked.
“It’s different being in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I thought we may have overwhelmed them some,” Walz said. “Athletically we have some very talented and gifted players, but I think now (Boise State) knows what to expect. We’re not going to surprise them.
“They were able to play us last year. I thought they played extremely well, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
Boise State men at Cayman Islands Classic
Boise State opens the Cayman Islands Classic on Monday against Creighton in John Gray Gymnasium in George Town, Cayman Islands.
Tipoff is 5:30 p.m. MT, and the game will be streamed online on the Stadium College Basketball page on Facebook.
It is only the second meeting between the two programs, but the first ended up being one of the biggest wins in Boise State history.
On Nov. 28, 2012, Boise State upset then-No. 11 Creighton 83-70 on its home court. It remains the highest-ranked opponent the Broncos have ever beaten.
“We’re excited to get down there and play against some good teams,” Boise State redshirt sophomore Derrick Alston said. “... We’re going down with the mindset to go down there and win it. That’s the mindset we’ve got to have. No one’s picking us to win, so we’ve got the underdog mindset.”