Big-time women’s basketball is coming back to Fort Collins on Sunday, when Colorado State hosts one of the best teams ever to visit Moby Arena.
Louisville (4-1), which has reached the Elite Eight of the past two NCAA Tournaments and is currently ranked No. 10 in the nation, is making a stopover from a West Coast road trip to face the unbeaten Rams (5-0). Tipoff is at noon.
It’s just the third time ever that CSU has hosted a top-10 team, and the first time in 21 years.
“It’s super exciting,” CSU guard McKenna Hofschild said after practice Wednesday. “We’ve been talking about it all week, just really trying to get in the most excited, amped-up mindset.
“We’re hoping that we can get a really good crowd, and we feel confident we can give them all we’ve got and make it really tough for them for 40 minutes.”
A look back at top-ranked teams to play at CSU shows Connecticut was ranked No. 8 when it came to Fort Collins on Dec. 23, 2004, and beat the Rams 63-44 at Moby before going on to win the fifth of its 11 national championships.
Rutgers was No. 10 when it came to Moby for Nov. 20, 1998, game and was upset 71-60 by the Becky Hammon-led Rams.
CSU beat No. 15 Notre Dame 72-66 at Moby on Nov. 21, 2001, then replaced the Fighting Irish at No. 15 before taking down No. 11 Colorado 81-69 a week later at Moby.
The Rams' other nonconference home wins over teams in the top 20 at the time are an 81-74 victory over No. 17 CU on Dec. 3, 2003, and an 80-65 win over No. 20 Florida on Nov. 19, 1998.
Louisville was a last-minute addition to the Rams’ schedule this season, coach Ryun Williams said.
“I know Jeff (Walz, Louisville’s coach), and he’s called in the past to try to get a game,” Williams said. “They were playing out west at Washington and Cal Poly and wanted a game on the way back. We kind of said ‘no’ — our schedule was full for about a month when he kept calling. Then we got dropped by Tulsa, so we said, 'We’ll play you if we don’t have to come back to Louisville,' and he was all about that.”
That conversation took place in late July or early August, Williams said.
When his CSU’s players heard the news, they were ecstatic.
“It’s really exciting,” forward Cali Clark said. “It’s a really good opportunity for us to play against some good competition.”
Louisville has been one of the top programs in the nation under Walz, who is in his 15th season as coach. They Cardinals were in the Final Four just four years ago, played in national championship games in 2009 and 2013, and reached the Elite Eight of the past two NCAA Tournaments and three times since 2014. They’ve advanced to the Sweet 16 in 10 of the past 13 NCAA Tournaments.
Louisville was ranked No. 6 in both the Associated Press and coaches preseason polls but dropped to No. 10 after losing its opener in overtime to Arizona, who was then No. 22 in the AP poll and No. 15 in the coaches’ poll, on a neutral court in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The Cardinals have won four straight games since then, including wins at Washington (61-53) last Saturday and Cal Poly (72-32) on Tuesday.
CSU defeated Lipscomb 81-55 in its most-recent game Sunday at Moby Arena. So the Rams have had a full week to get ready for what will likely be the best opponent they face all season. Maybe even the best opponent these players face in their entire college careers.
The key for the Rams, Williams said, will be protecting the ball and avoiding turnovers on offense and playing solid defense against a Louisville team that is physical in the post and on drives to the basket. Shots, he said, have got to be contested, and his players need to be locked in and focused at both ends of the floor.
Anticipation has built with the additional preparation time, said Clark, who played against some of the Louisville players on the summer AAU circuit while she was in high school.
“The nerves also build up, just because you have this whole long stretch to think about this one team,” she said. “But I think it’s really good, because each day we get to pull apart part of their game and work on that.”
And, win or lose, the Rams believe they’ll benefit from the experience.
“It’s cool to get somebody that good in your gym, and our kids are excited to play,” Williams said.
“Obviously, your weaknesses will get exposed when you play a team like that, but it’s an opportunity to compete at a different level and grow our basketball team.”
Tickets for CSU vs. Louisville women's basketball
Tickets for Sunday’s noon game at Moby Arena in Fort Collins are available online at CSURams.com for $5 if purchased Friday and $9 if purchased Saturday or Sunday. CSU students are admitted for free with valid I.D.
Kelly Lyell reports on CSU, high school and other local sports and topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. If you 're a subscriber, thank you for your support. If not, please consider purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: CSU women's basketball excited for home date with No. 10 Louisville