For at least a few minutes Sunday afternoon, Louisville coach Jeff Walz sat back leisurely on a dais inside Comcast Center and offered the kind of made-for-TV pleasantries and by-the-book coach-speak that suggested maybe, just maybe, there really was nothing too special about Monday's second-round NCAA tournament matchup with No. 2 Maryland.
So much for that. With two answers to questions spaced 10 minutes apart, the tantalizing mentor-versus-mentee narrative that had colored their first meeting three years ago — a 77-60 Cardinals win in the Elite Eight — was at the fore once more.
First, on whether Walz, after one season at Minnesota and another five at Maryland under coach Brenda Frese, remains in contact with his old boss: "I haven't talked to her in probably four years. We've both got our own thing going on, so there is really no contact there at all."
Then, on Frese saying she expected No. 7 Louisville to "junk it up": "Call it junk, whatever, I don't care. I'm trying to win."
Victory, or the absence of it, will inevitably emerge as the chief talking point among commentators and fans when the final buzzer sounds sometime late Monday night in College Park and one team's ticket to the Sweet 16 is punched.
Until then, the spotlight will again hover on two former colleagues who, despite a seeming mutual respect and shared 2006 national-title rings, don't seem all that interested in being best buddies.
Maybe if their last meeting had gone as expected, things would be different. In 2009, Maryland met an upstart Louisville team led by Angel McCoughtry (St. Frances), a budding star who'd been passed over by the hometown Terps as they assembled a blue-chip recruiting class including forward Marissa Coleman and guard Kristi Toliver.
Instead of another shot at a national title, however, Maryland's senior twosome ended with tears. They wept on the sideline in the final moments of the blowout loss, Toliver's head buried in a towel as her former assistant celebrated his new program's improbable revival with Frese's leftovers.
At the postgame news conference, after a reporter relayed Walz's insinuation that the Terps had taken the Cardinals lightly, Coleman bristled: "Coach Walz is extremely wrong."
The programs haven't played since, stifling whatever chance of reconciliation — or rivalry — existed after the loss. The residual wounds, however, haven't completely faded.
Asked after the Terps' first-round win against Navy on Saturday whether she preferred to play Louisville or its first-round victim Michigan State, senior center Lynetta Kizer demurred before a smile creased her face.
"If we get Louisville, that would be good," said Kizer, one of only three holdovers from the Terps' 2008-09 team. "I'd like to play them again."
"Some of those feelings are still there," added guard Kim Rodgers, Kizer's classmate. "But for the most part, not really."
Monday's game, Rodgers said, should be more about earning a trip to Raleigh for the regional semifinals, not reliving or revenging what happened when the two programs last met on the city's RBC Center court. It's not an unbelievable notion, either: Of the six players available at Maryland's and Louisville's news conferences Sunday, only two were a part of the program for their meeting three years ago.
Still, until forward Alyssa Thomas leads the Terps to their first Sweet 16 since the Coleman-Toliver era, or until guard Shoni Schimmel carries the Cardinals to another bracket-busting upset, the talk will be about what happened in 2009 and why it might — or might not — materialize again.
"It just didn't happen that year," Kizer said Sunday. "That's what it was. We kept moving. There was a lot of basketball left to be played. The thing about basketball is that we got another opportunity. And our opportunity comes tomorrow."
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