Louisville looks to complete the rare sweep in winning a championship in both men’s and women’s basketball. They will have to beat UConn in order to do so, and that won’t be easy after the Huskies demolished Notre Dame in the Final Four on Sunday.
LBS spoke with Lisa Leslie, who is a board member for the Capital One Cup, on Tuesday to get her thoughts on the title game. We also asked her about the future of Skylar Diggins and more. The winner of the Louisville-UConn game will get 60 points toward winning the Capital One Cup. Right now Leslie is leaning toward picking UConn.
“If I went with my gut feeling, I’d say UConn will win it,” said Leslie. “If I went with my heart and hopes, I would want Louisville to have a big upset. I think that would be a great story. I think it’s great for women’s basketball and men’s basketball that two teams from the same school could win a championship in the same year. And you always love the underdog. But I’m not hating on on UConn; I’m really happy about Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, two up-and-coming players.”
Leslie admitted seeing Louisville knock off Baylor and Tennessee and reach the championship game has been surprising, though, she was warned about them.
“I’ve been very surprised, but I have to add my husband did tell me about Louisville early in the season. He got a chance to watch them play, told me how tall they were, how active they were, and how their defensive pressure was a strong side. I wasn’t surprised by the time I got to the tournament and got to see them.
“My brackets were completely ruined [by the Cardinals]. I don’t know how many people other than Louisville fans picked Louisville to get to the finals. I was definitely surprised that they took Baylor out, but I thought their game plan was brilliant. To be physical, to really take it at Brittney Griner, that’s what you have to do.
“I’m just hoping that they will be able to force some turnovers for UConn and be effective with their defense. But it’s going to be a tough challenge because UConn’s in great shape. They’re used to handling pressure from guards, they’re very physical in post play, so I’m interested to see how they respond tonight.”
Which player does Leslie expect to have the biggest impact in the championship game?
“I think Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis would be the standout player for tonight. She’s going to have to have a much better game than she had on Sunday. She’s capable of scoring whether it’s on the block or shooting the three ball. I do look for Breanna Stewart to continue her shooting prowess. She can shoot the three ball, she can do a step through, she has nice footwoork. She told me she kind of models her game after mine, so I can see that. She’s a player that has the attention of the Louisville players and they’re really going to have to know where she is.”
UConn torched Notre Dame 83-65 Sunday after losing to them three times earlier in the season. That was a surprise to Leslie.
“It did surprise me and I was surprised Notre Dame played so bad. That was probably one of their worst games of the season combined when you look at the players and the shooting percentage. I think they were in shock. Give UConn a lot of credit — it is tough to beat a team four times in the same season. It’s a very hard thing to do. I’ve had to do that and it’s very difficult. You try to pull out all the stops — you use all the extra back screens and the forward screens that you can get into and it just becomes very difficult. I thought UConn was hungry, they fought hard, and they executed very well. I think Geno Auriemma had them on their game plan and he really made them believe this is their time and their moment.
“You have to give credit where credit is due. UConn really established that this is going to be a physical game, we’re going to come straight at you, and I thought they did that in the paint. UConn was there to fight and find a way to win. I don’t know that Skylar (Diggins) really took as many shots as she should have, but she just could not hit the side of a barn. It was unfortunate for her. I was surprised that (Kayla) McBride was also very off. It was unusual to see both of them not shoot well on the same day. UConn did a nice job on both of those players and forcing their will.”
Skylar Diggins had an off game against UConn. She went for 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting. But Leslie still sees her having room for a good future.
“I think of Skylar Digins probably in the same category I put Dawn Staley, whose heart is bigger than her height and it spreads. She’s a great leader and she makes players around her better. Her ability to score at her height and size will be interesting to see how she transfers into the WNBA. She has to be tricky, maybe add a few more runners to her game to get those shots off. Her ability to step back and shoot the 3-pointer, but she also does a nice job of getting assists. I think she has a nice all-around game. It’s very impressive what she’s been able to do over her career. Although she lost, it doesn’t really define her career. She’s been outstanding for women’s basketball.”
Overall, Leslie thinks women’s basketball has a strong future.
“I’m very excited about the growth of women’s basketball and the fact that we’re having more television time. I applaud ESPN for really stepping up — we just re-signed another multi-year deal with the WNBA and ESPN — and that speaks volumes for us as a league, as a fan, because that gives you staying power when you have television support. They’re looking to do more and we’re really appreciative of that.