- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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What Louisville coach Jeff Walz wouldn't give for a simple ankle sprain, something that might require one of his players to sit out a couple of weeks and get physical therapy before quickly returning to the floor.
Don't misunderstand. Walz isn't rooting for that. He'd merely trade it in a heartbeat for the gut-wrenching, season-ending injuries that seem to plague his team every season.
"All of ours seem to be year-ending," Walz said. "I feel bad for the kids."
Walz said Monday morning that his team is still absorbing last week's news that senior guard Antonita Slaughter will miss the rest of the season after she was diagnosed with a blood clot in her lung.
Slaughter collapsed on the bench last Tuesday during the Cardinals' game against Missouri State. The clot was discovered in follow-up examinations. Walz said Monday that doctors believe the clot was not related to her collapse, but was discovered during the subsequent evaluation. The collapse, doctors believe, was caused by a "cardiac event" and Slaughter is still being evaluated. In the meantime, Slaughter has begun to take blood thinners, the treatment expected to last six or seven months.
"They don't know if the clot was there before or after," Walz said. "But they are two separate incidents. They are still trying to determined what caused the cardiac event."
Slaughter was back on the Louisville bench Saturday for the team's game against Wright State. She came to shootaround before the game and she's back living on campus.
"Things have settled down. I think just seeing her have interaction with everybody, there's a big relief there," Walz said. "I mean, when she was taken off the court on a stretcher she was unresponsive. The kids were terrified. Everybody was. She wasn't able to give us a thumbs-up."
It wasn't until about 10 minutes after she left that court that Walz and the team got word that she was conscious and responsive.
"The medical people felt good about things at that point," Walz said.
Now the task for the Cardinals is to move forward and to replace Slaughter's production on the court. She was averaging 9.3 points a game in nine starts.
Walz is used to this part. Seniors Tia Gibbs and Asia Taylor missed last season with hip injuries. Junior Shawnta Dyer suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in December and missed the rest of the season.
"This is kind of what we've gone through the past four years," Walz said. "Players have to step up."
Walz said Slaughter's points will be the easiest thing to replace.
"We'll find the points. It's the intangibles she brought," Walz said. "She defended well, and we are really trying to figure out that role. She is 6-foot-1 and with her length, she could defend the perimeter.
"Somebody doesn't have to shoot the ball as well, but somebody else has to become a threat, because Antonita gave us the ability to spread the floor."
Slaughter's absence on the floor means Taylor will move to the wing from power forward. Sophomores Megan Deines and Cortnee Walton will pick up the slack as well, and Gibbs, a sixth-year senior, might have to play a few more minutes.
Gibbs missed the past two seasons with shoulder and hip injuries and her time on the floor has been limited, but she started in Slaughter's spot on Saturday and played eight minutes.
"We are managing her minutes, we want to get her feeling better," Walz said of Gibbs. "We will try to play her more if she's able."
Walz admires the way his team has handled the situation over the past six days.
"Nobody has ever been through anything like that," Walz said. "I'm not sure how we even kept playing after that."
While Louisville continues to absorb losing Antonita Slaughter for the rest of the season, the Cardinals must come up with a way to replace the guard's production on the court.