LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville guard Arica Carter needed a moment to digest coach Jeff Walz’s comparison of her to a recreation league player. But after reflecting on her days playing pickup games, she realized he was praising her for quietly doing the little things needed to win.
“When you go to the park and play against some of the older guys, it’s not like they’re scoring on you, going by you or doing some crazy move,” she said. “They’re smart, making plays you don’t expect them to make, hitting open shots or finding teammates. Just doing the things that matter.”
For the Cardinals, doing the things that matter is making wining plays.
The junior has guiding the Cardinals to their first-ever No. 1 seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Carter’s ability to distributing the ball to offensive threats like guard Asia Durr and forward Myisha Hines-Allen has been huge for Louisville (32-2), which begins play Friday against Boise State (23-9) in the Lexington Regional. The 5-foot-8 Los Angeles native is also a spark in the Cardinals’ aggressive defense and has demonstrated the knack to hit timely baskets.
Carter is coming off a career-best 16-point performance that helped Louisville edge Notre Dame 74-72 for its first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship. Her four 3-pointers were certainly needed in the close game in which every Cardinals starter scored in double figures.
While Walz proudly notes the deep Cardinals “have shooters all around,” he praises Carter for steadily building her offensive game.
“It hasn’t been something that just after a few weeks or a few days of extra shooting, all of a sudden she’s a good shooter,” the coach said of Carter. “She spent all summer in the gym and that’s a testimony to her that instead of trying to find instant gratification, she knew it was a process. She trusted in the process, and it’s paid off.”
Carter started 29 of 34 games as a sophomore before redshirting last season because of a groin injury. Watching from the sidelines helped her understand not only what she had to do when she got back on the court, but how to do it better.
Getting stronger was one area she focused on so she could be better prepared for the physical demands of playing the point in the ACC. In bulking up through diet and weight training, Carter also worked on scoring so she could capitalize when opponents focused on the high-scoring Durr — the ACC’s Player of the Year — and tournament MVP Hines-Allen.
Carter has excelled as Louisville’s floor general, but she is even more pleased about hitting shots when the ball gets reversed back to her — especially from behind the arc.
“That’s where things really started off for me,” said Carter, whose career highs include 46 3s on 41 percent shooting and per-game averages of 7.6 points and 4 assists.
“I got confident in that shot and people started running it out to me, so I had to get comfortable making the pull-up, driving to the basket or finding an open teammate.”
Carter’s contributions will be even more important with Louisville being the team to beat in the Lexington Region as it seeks its third Final Four under Walz and first since reaching the 2013 championship against Connecticut.
The Cardinals hope stay in Kentucky as long as they can, but that means navigating a challenging bracket that includes former national champions such as No. 2 seed Baylor, No. 3 Tennessee and No. 4 Stanford.
Carter will play a major role in how much success Louisville will have.
“If it’s running my team, I’ll do that,” she said. “Whatever my coaches tell me to do or whatever the other team gives me, that’s what I’m going to do.”