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Jeff Walz: Louisville basketball stuck in ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ mode

Coach Jeff Walz and Louisville started the season ranked No. 7 before four losses. (Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK)

Louisville women’s basketball is bouncing back and forth between two identities. One good, one bad. One coach Jeff Walz wants to see every day, and one he’s had enough of.

“We don’t communicate,” he said. “And until we fix that, we are going to be Jekyll and Hyde.”

No. 10 Louisville has had an inconsistent start to the season, surviving a test against a tough Belmont squad before losing to Gonzaga in overtime, then topping No. 3 Texas (the Longhorns have since dropped to No. 19) but falling to South Dakota State. The last three results all came at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament last weekend.

Both Gonzaga and South Dakota State are top-25 caliber teams, as the Jackrabbits started the season ranked and both teams have been getting votes each week in the AP Poll. It’s not the losses that are the issue for Walz and his Cardinals, but rather the way they happen.

As Walz said, he’s never sure which team will show up.

“We communicated against Texas,” he said following the loss to South Dakota State. “We talked. We were engaged. Today, it wasn’t a good shootaround, and then our warmup before, we were concerned because we were on the baseline saying, ‘You’ve got to talk, you’ve got to communicate.’ And we just didn’t do it.”

Walz is also concerned about his team’s execution on both offense and defense, calling the Cardinal’s play “sloppy.”

Against Gonzaga on Saturday, Lousivlle looked to have a win locked up after an efficient fourth quarter in which the the Cardinals shot 53.9% from the field, knocked down a 3-pointer and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line. They also held the Bulldogs to 31.6% shooting.

But two free throws from Eliza Hollingsworth tied the score with 38 seconds to play, forcing extra time.

The overtime period was a completely different story for the Cardinals, as they were outscored 18-6. They shot just 2-for-10 from the field and 1-for-4 from the line while letting the Bulldogs shoot 13 free throws (they made 10) and go a perfect 4-for-4 from the field.

Dr. Jekyll, though, showed up when Louisville took on the Longhorns.

Walz praised his team after the 71-63 victory over Texas, in which the Cardinals forced their opponent into 19 turnovers. Hailey Van Lith led the charge with 19 points, while Chrislyn Carr and Morgan Jones each added 18.

“I thought we fought today,” Walz said. “Overall, I thought there were a lot longer stretches where we played hard and got after it. And that’s what we have to do.”

But against the Jackrabbits the following game, Louisville transformed back into Mr. Hyde, suffering a 10-point loss and lacking the communication Walz wants to see from his squad.

Van Lith had 26 points in that contest, but the Cardinals couldn’t find offense anywhere else, as Olivia Cochran was the next highest scorer with 7 points. Louisville also was outrebounded 41-24.

The Cardinals play Longwood at home on Friday before preparing for a top-10 contest against No. 4 Ohio State on Nov. 30 for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Louisville will need to find some consistency in order to secure the upset against the 4-0 Buckeyes.

“We just have a lot of work to do,” Walz said Saturday. “We aren’t going to quit. It’s not the end of the world. I’m sure some of our fans are going to feel like it is, but I promise you it’s not. We are just going to have to get after it in practice, grind and keep competing. Because we show glimpses of being really good, we just aren’t able to sustain it for long period of time.”