Greg Collins is still looking for a piece of that net – a thread, at least.

Collins, Western Kentucky’s first-year women’s basketball coach, was on Louisville’s women’s basketball staff the year before Jeff Walz arrived to replace Tom Collen in 2007. Collins ultimately joined Collen at Arkansas, but feels like he left Walz a pretty nice parting gift in the form of a solid roster headlined by reigning Big East Conference Player of the Year Angel McCoughtry and Xavier transfer Candyce Bingham – coached by Collins in high school at Louisville’s DuPont Manual.

Two years later, Walz took that team Collins helped assemble to an NCAA Final Four appearance as the Cardinals finished runner-up for the national championship.

“I tease him that that piece of net you got from the Final Four, I should get a little bit of thread from that or something,” Collins said Tuesday night after his Lady Toppers dropped a season-opening 102-80 decision to Walz’s No. 5-ranked Louisville squad. “But they’ve done a great job. Good coaches win with talent, and that’s one thing that coach Walz has done is he’s had great players, but he’s won.

“... Over the years he’s just continued to get good players and win against good teams. He’s one of the best coaches in the country. He’s got one of the best programs going in the country.”

Tuesday’s win over WKU at E.A. Diddle Arena was the 300th in Walz’s head coaching career and it happened in the same gym where he got his start as a college assistant under former Lady Toppers coach Paul Sanderford in 1996.

Walz moved on with Sanderford to Nebraska in 1997, then made stops as an assistant at Minnesota and Maryland – where he helped the Terrapins win the program’s first national title in 2006 – before landing the Louisville job.

Then-Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich wanted a coach to move the program forward – specifically, get the Cardinals into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the first time. In two years, Walz had them playing for the national championship.

With that success came heightened expectations, and Walz has delivered three Final Four appearances in his 11 seasons leading the program.

“Now all of a sudden we have expectations that if we don’t get to a Final Four and win a championship it’s a bad year,” Walz said. “You know, it’s amazing how things have changed. But it’s fun because that’s what you want as a coach.”

Coming off a program-record 36-3 season capped by another Final Four appearance and loaded for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament with a roster featuring All-American guard Asia Durr, Louisville’s decisive win over the Lady Toppers was no shock.

But even though graduation losses in the form of Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown took a heavy toll in production and experience, Collins’ team pushed Louisville in the first half before Durr’s scoring (game-high 33 points) and the Cardinals’ superior shooting (55.9 percent from the field, including 16 made 3-pointers) ultimately secured that milestone victory for Walz.

“We got up and down the court with Louisville tonight, which is really good,” Collins said. “They’re one of the best transition teams in the country. So we’ll get better in our half-court. That was really the difference.”

Collins has worked to increase the Lady Toppers’ tempo heading into this season in what promises to be a significant change in style of play. But the nuts and bolts of coaching has been something Collins has been doing all along for WKU and that hasn’t changed since he took over after Michelle Clark-Heard left to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati.

“Head coach is just a title,” Brewer said. “He coached us the same way last year, so it’s not any different.”

Although he denied Collins a milestone of his own Tuesday – namely, win No. 1 – Walz thinks the Lady Toppers’ new head coach will continue to produce a winning team. In six years as an assistant on former WKU coach Heard’s staff, Collins helped make the program annually one of the best in first the Sun Belt Conference and now Conference USA.

“I think he’s a brilliant basketball mind,” Walz said. “I think he knows what he’s doing. He’s going to have this program continuing to succeed, there’s no doubt at all. And it’s fun to watch.”{&end}

– Follow sports editor Jeff Nations on Twitter @Jeff_NationsBG or visit bgdailynews.com.

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Bowling Green Daily News Sports Editor

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