After Louisville’s thrilling overtime victory over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, Louisville star Sara Hammond talks about the victory. She also discusses stepping up for her team and the play of freshman Myisha Hines-Allen.
Swish Appeal: Sara, what did your team’s resilience last night show you?
Sara Hammond: “It showed me that our team can a make a deep run come NCAA tournament. Coach (Jeff Walz) said before the game tonight that it was a Sweet 16, Elite Eight atmosphere type game. (North Carolina), they’re a top-20 team, very athletic, and they have outstanding players.
“For a young inexperienced team to come in an environment like this, in our first year in the ACC tournamentt — I mean it shows any given night, anybody can win against anybody. You just have to put a complete game together.”
SA: It seemed like Coach Walz kept calling your number to make a play in the second half, how did that make you feel to see his confidence in you late in the game?
SH: “Oh yeah, being a senior, I think in times like this you have to step up, you know? Your whole team is looking at you, you’re an experienced player being in the postseason. And I wanted to take that challenge. My coach challenges me for big-time moments; I want to be called upon, I want that opportunity.
“I feel like I work hard every single day to be in those types of moments and to come through — and I want to do that; and for coach to have confidence in me, trust in me in that I can put the ball in the hoop, or get a big stop, or make a big play for our team, just to get the momentum on our side — that just boosts my confidence even more.
“I’ve been struggling lately — toward the end of the season — but to come up big tonight, I’m just thankful (coach) still believes in me, and my teammates still believe in me. I just want to make my college career the best it can be.”
SA: Talk about the passion you play with — and the energy that you got from Myisha Hines-Allen tonight?
SH: “Oh yeah you know, just with five seniors on the team, the coaches really challenge us to get the team going, you know staying mentally focused and being physically ready. The times that we lost this year our energy is not good. We’re down, everybody hangs their head if they miss a shot, make a mistake, then everybody goes their own individual way.
“And our team success (this season) has been about the team, when everybody is on the same page, everybody passing the ball, we’re all doing good — that’s when we make our runs and that’s when we balance our team. Tonight, this being our first game in the ACC tournament, I wanted to come out with fire, with energy, play loose.
“Whatever happens, we’re going give our best effort mentally and physically. I wanted the freshmen to be freshmen. I think with Myisha (Hines-Allen) and Mariya (Moore), their energy plays and the roles they provide for us I wanted them to be mentally in it — and mentally fired up because we need them.
“And of course, Myisha, stepped up big tonight. Coach already tells her (that) when she plays with fire and energy, ‘Nobody can stop you, you’re so dominate, you’re so athletic, (and) nobody can keep up with you.’ And he asked Myisha to do that tonight. She scored two baskets in a row. She wanted me to take a play for players to score from the wings, I said, ‘No you have the hot hand, I believe in you! Keep going, they can’t stop you in the post.’
“I think that instills confidence in her that, ‘My teammates believe in me, nobody can stop me then I have to believe in myself.’ I’m sure proud of the way she played, I think she’s fired up playing against another great player like Stephanie (Muvunga), it was a challenge for her to play against her. I was proud! She made the free throw at the end, and she didn’t hang her head after she missed the first one, I just proud of the way she played tonight.”
SA: You referenced the fact that it’s your first ACC tournament, how much would it mean to win the ACC Tournament your first year in the conference?
SH: “It would be a great honor, and it be a great reward especially for it being our first year just the competition we play. Every night you’re playing against like a top-25 team, and if they aren’t top-25 they’re right outside the top-25.
“The best thing about it, to have freshmen coming in and players who didn’t get to play as much helping us win this year, man, it’s just awesome to see. Our team basketball — everybody is saying we’re playing good team basketball, we’re one of the best basketball teams to watch in the country.To come to this conference and prove to people, ‘Hey, we’re just as good as any team in this conference. It means a lot for us to possibly be able to play in the conference championship — and win it.
“And, especially getting into the NCAA tournament, that would give us so much confidence. Coach always talks about not just winning a conference championship, but to win a National Championship. I had the opportunity to play for a national championship, we didn’t win, but I want to make this last part of my college career the best, to play for a conference championship would be awesome.
“I haven’t won one the last couple years, we’ve been close. Last year in the American Athletic Conference against Connecticut. To play in those championships you have to play the best, and we played one of the best tonight in North Carolina; and tomorrow we’re about to play another top-20, top-10 team in FSU.
“It’s just great competition, and if you’re a competitor and person who wants to be the best, you have to play the best. I think our team is up for the challenge.”