UK Women's Basketball

UK-Louisville just another game? Not for Cards' Sara Hammond

Louisville's Sara Hammond (10), last year's Miss Basketball at Rockcastle County, has started five games this season. She grew up a Kentucky fan.
Louisville's Sara Hammond (10), last year's Miss Basketball at Rockcastle County, has started five games this season. She grew up a Kentucky fan. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Louisville coaches are stressing to their players that this game against Kentucky on Sunday is just like any other game.

"Another game on the schedule," Cards Coach Jeff Walz tabbed it this week before he brings his No. 10 Cardinals into Memorial Coliseum for a date with unbeaten, No. 12 Kentucky.

Freshman forward Sara Hammond has listened to her coaches downplay the game.

But the reigning Kentucky Miss Basketball admits it's easier said than done.

"It's a big thing for me," said Hammond, who was the Sweet Sixteen Most Valuable Player after leading Rockcastle County to the title. "Growing up, I'm 45 minutes away from Lexington, I've been a UK fan my whole life.

"The opportunity to play against them is going to mean something special to me and I'm going to come out ready and hyped up and ready to give it my all."

It means a little extra, too, because she didn't get a scholarship offer from Kentucky despite being the state's first McDonald's All-American and being rated as high as No. 12 by one recruiting service.

"There's going to be that extra kick there, that extra spark in me," she said. "Not that I want to prove them wrong or prove to them they should have chosen me, but just to say, 'Hey, I can make it in the Division I level whatever college program I go to.' "

The 6-foot-2 forward's first game at the Division I level was impressive. She had 13 points and 13 rebounds while blocking four shots for Louisville (7-1).

The last Cardinals freshman with more rebounds in a game was star Angel McCoughtry, who had 14.

The Mount Vernon native has had some typical freshman bumps in the road, but Hammond has started five games for the Cardinals and averages 5.6 points and 5.9 rebounds. She leads Louisville, which is outrebounding opponents by 10.1 a game, in defensive boards.

"She's developing well," Walz said of Hammond, who is averaging 19 minutes. "Her strength is really an asset for her, which has allowed her to handle the contact and the physicality of the game.

"She's still learning and adjusting to the speed of the game. But because of her strength I'm able to play her a lot of minutes, which is helping her learning curve."

Walz loves Hammond off the court, too.

"She's a really good kid, too," he said. "The sweetest kid."

That's why her friends and former teammates and some members of her family are willing to shed their UK blue roots and wear red to Memorial Coliseum on Sunday.

"I keep hearing, 'We're going to be wearing red, but we're still UK fans,' " Hammond said. "They support me and our team as well because they know how good we are and they care about me."

Her high school coach perhaps clarified some of the intent of the UK blue-hued county of Rockcastle.

"It'll be Rockcastle red maybe," Chrysti Noble said before adding that because she grew up in Tennessee she doesn't "have a dog in the fight between Kentucky and Louisville. But of course I have to be for my girl."

Noble said she hopes Hammond's emotions about UK don't get in the way of her having a great game.

"Her feelings of course were hurt," Noble said of the recruiting process. "I do know it bothers her a little bit that way. I hope her emotions don't get to her."

Hammond finds it unlikely.

"There will be that extra motivation to play harder, but I'm just going to play hard for my team and do what my coaches ask me to do."

Well, everything except treating this like it's just another game.