INTERVIEW: Salena Filichia discusses women’s basketball & the Lady Cards’ chances in the ’18 NCAA Tournament!

NCAA basketball and the city of Louisville have gone hand in hand with one another for what seems like an eternity. There’s a reason that this town consistently has the highest television ratings when it comes to college hoops, and that reason is the fact that this town embraces the sport like no other part of the country. What separates Louisville from other towns like Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina or even Lawrence, Kansas is the fact that people are passionate about both the men’s and women’s teams making for one hell of a college basketball town.

I’ve been a casual fan of the Lady Cards for a while now. Or maybe I should say that I’ve dipped my toe in the water when the going was good. My vivid first memory of the women’s team is when I watched Angel McCoughtry lead the 2008 team to the title game. My interest piqued again a few years later when sister duo Shoni and Jude Schimmel erupted onto the scene as the Cards again made it to the 2013 championship game. I distinctly remember watching that year when Louisville upset WBB juggernaut Baylor — That moment when Shoni put superstar Brittney Griner on skates and hit that circus shot still gets me out of my chair fistpumping like a maniac.

Considering that this team has consistently been very good over the last 10+ years, I’m not sure why I never chased that proverbial stick off the porch when it comes to the Lady Cards. As an on again/off again spectator of the Lady Cards, I figure now is as good a time as any to fully invest into what Jeff Walz has built. Now that the team has advanced to the Sweet 16 to play Stanford this Friday, I’m sure there will be a lot of casual fans (like me) watching them (ESPN, 9:30PM).

To get better acquainted with this team and women’s basketball in general, I reached out to Cardinal superfan Salena Filichia for a bit of guidance and a few tips on what to watch for. While not rooting on the Cards, Salena stays busy playing in indie rock band Killii Killii and Glitteroke, a live karaoke band (whoa!). Read on as Salena answers a few of my questions about this year’s squad, the women’s game versus the men’s game, and how far she thinks this team can go…

Never Nervous: As a casual spectator of this year’s team, what should someone like me pay attention to while watching as a knowledgable basketball fan?

Salena Filichia: The passing on this team is phenomenal. The assists are often these effortless appearing passes, as though the team was connected telepathically, knowing where each other are without looking. The defense is amazing.

NN: I’m a fan of Myisha Hines for sure, and how could I not be? She’s great! Who’s your favorite player?

SF: My wife and I went to our first WBB games 5 years ago. A friend had some extra tickets and we had already gone to a MBB game that same day. It was Shoni Schimmel’s senior year. We went to the tournament games held here that year and got season tickets. That first season ticket game was Myisha Hines-Allen’s first U of L home game.

I remember a few minutes into watching her play leaning over to my wife and commenting on how she was going to be really good. Her on-court charisma reminded me of Montrezl Harrell at the time. She’s been my favorite player ever since. She appears to have this passion for what she is doing and also seems incredibly humble about it at the same time. Watching and listening to press conferences, it’s never about her, it’s about the team.

NN: Is there a Cardinal that doesn’t get as much notoriety that you feel is a major contributor?

SF: Arica Carter. She was red shirted last season and came back an even better player than her previous 2 years. When Durr isn’t hitting, Carter is. In the ACC tournament game against Notre Dame she had 4 3’s and only 1 point less than Durr. Her plays are calculated. I think that her injury last year gave her an inside look at how the coaching side of the game works and gives her the ability to act as a coach on the court, too. Dana Evans is another player that, while she doesn’t have a lot of points this year, is a freshman that will guard a player into exhaustion. She picks someone and sticks to them. She’s fast, too.

“Coach Walz is maybe the best basketball coach in the state.”

NN: What are your thoughts on Coach Walz? With all of the talent he’s accrued over the years, has he underachieved? Or is beating UCONN just that much of a hurdle?

SF: Coach Walz is maybe the best basketball coach in the state. He and his staff work hard with these women. That is how you get 2 ACC players of the year playing on the same team. I think sometimes the team has gotten a little cocky and it is hard to coach that out of players. Sometimes they haven’t worked well together.

Maybe it’s just me, but I noticed some games last year when Mariah Moore was still on the team where it seemed like there were some significant communication breakdowns on the court and that something that is up to the players to fix. As for UConn, they are an amazing team. Gabby Williams is a really amazing player. UConn has a lot of talent, but I think a lot of teams get psyched out about playing UConn. If this U of L team is put in a position where they face them again, I believe that the outcome will be much different.

NN: This isn’t an original thought, but it’s always seemed to me that the women’s game is a portrayal of a much purer brand of basketball than big time NCAA men’s hoops teams. How do you feel the men’s game compares?

SF: There is a huge difference. With WBB, you can see a passion for the game. These women play because they love the sport. They stay in college until they get their degrees. On the men’s side, you have as many slam dunks as you can fit into a game and the possibility of millions of dollars after your freshman year of college. I don’t see the same passion for the sport with the men that I see with the women’s games.

There is a love of the sport sure, but it isn’t as clear. The wage gap in MNBA vs WNBA is staggering. A starting rookie in MNBA comes in at a salary of $560k. In the WNBA, players start at around $50k and cap out around $110k. Most of the WNBA players make the bulk of their money playing in other countries, often making a lot more than they do in the US. I believe that the entire WNBA makes less than half of what LeBron James makes in a year. It’s absurd.

“I don’t see the same passion for the sport with the men that I see with the women’s games.”

NN: Who would you consider to be your all time starting five for the Lady Cards?

SF: I’m gonna go with our current starting lineup: Myisha Hines-Allen, Asia Durr, Jazmine Jones, Sam Fuehring, and Arica Carter…though I do miss Brihanna Jackson.

SF: What was the defining moment in your Louisville Lady Cards fandom? Was there a particular game or play that solidified you as a hardcore fan?
I don’t know if there was a defining moment. I knew that I liked it more than MBB at that first game. Watching people do what they love to do isn’t much different than going to a show and watching the band zone out on their own songs because that is who they are and what they are dedicated to. And also, that first Myisha Hines-Allen game. Though, unrelated to the game play, there was a game last year where our African grey won pet of the game. He had his big beak up on the jumbotron with his favorite toy, his U of L hat. He hates baseball caps. Any time he has the chance to toss around a cap, he will. He likes to chase them around the house, too.

NN: While gearing up for a big game, what are a few songs that you listen to to get you hyped?

SF: This year Quimby (from Twenty First Century Fox) introduced me to a great tune by Hazel Miller called “Look What We Can Do Louisville”. I promised myself that if U of L beat Notre Dame that I would make a highlight reel to that song. Check it out:

I also made one for the ACC tournament final (also against Notre Dame) that seemed appropriate.

NN: Given the chance, can Louisville actually beat UCONN? Or should fans just hope that another team gets hot and knocks out the Huskies early?

SF: In the February game against UConn, U of L came out slow. That first quarter is what killed us. There is a lot of hype around UConn and I think that scares a lot of teams. In the last 3 quarters of the game UConn scored 45 points while U of L scored 52. If U of L can come out strong from the start of the game, I absolutely believe that they can beat UConn..but if another team beats UConn before then, I am ok with that, too. I would love to see another Notre Dame match up.

NN: How far do you see these Cardinals going? Do they have a legit shot to win the whole damned thing?

SF: I see Mississippi State being the biggest hurdle. I’m also a little worried about Baylor. If we can get past Baylor next Sunday (if they make it), then I see us at least in the final four. I try to be a little pessimistic, but honestly, the only thing that would keep them from winning is themselves. If they can play strong every game, from the first second, they can win it all.

“I try to be a little pessimistic, but honestly, the only thing that would keep them from winning is themselves.”

NN: Lastly, give us three factors to look out for with this team throughout the rest of the NCAA tournament. What needs to happen in order to give the Cards the best shot at winning?

SF: Rebounds, Defense, starting strong…those three things are how U of L wins the tournament. The team can get defensive rebounds all day, but sometimes aren’t there to catch their own misses. This team has one of the best defenses in the country. It’s why Notre Dame wasn’t able to win in the last 2 games. Unfortunately with having a good defense, you have a tendency to get fouls.

When half of your starting lineup has 3 fouls each by the half you have to dig into the bench. U of L has a great bench, but it’s not as polished as those starting 5, so mistakes are more likely to occur. They have to fight from the first buzzer. They can’t slack off until maybe halfway through the 4th quarter when they have a good lead.