LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville coach Jeff Walz just hopes his health can improve as much as the Cardinals' recent play.
Walz has battled sickness all week including a 101-degree fever, but has hustled to attract fans for games that tip early on a work day. Walz said Thursday that he had called, emailed or used social media to reach out to more than 200 bosses in town after fans took him up on his offer to ask for permission to miss work and turn out at the KFC Yum! Center.
Walz missed a practice himself while dealing the fever and other flu-like symptoms.
"I tried to drive in on Tuesday and didn't quite make it all the way in," said Walz, who guessed it was only his third absence in nine years at Louisville. "I decided to turn back around after I pulled off the road."
Walz guided other workouts from the arena's balcony to avoid making his players sick and aims to feel better with a win.
The Cardinals have won a lot lately, with victories in 24 of their last 27 games since a 1-4 start. They aren't the only team at the with impressive late-season runs. Louisville's opponent in the opening round Friday, Central Arkansas, has won 18 of its last 19.
No. 11 seed James Madison has won 20 in a row and sixth-seeded DePaul has won 13 of its last 15.
Two teams' rolls will continue after Friday's first-round games that begin with DePaul (25-8) against James Madison (27-5). Louisville (25-7) follows against Central Arkansas (28-3), which is making its first NCAA appearance. Friday's winners will meet on Sunday for a chance to reach the Sweet 16.
Those attending this weekend will see the best players from three conferences in Louisville's Myisha Hines-Allen (Atlantic Coast), DePaul's Chanise Jenkins (Big East) and James Madison's Jazmon Gwathmey (Colonial Athletic Association).
While the Sugar Bears don't have the star power of the other teams, they play stellar defense. Central Arkansas, which is making its NCAA debut after moving from Division II in 2011, is ninth in the country in points allowed at just 52 per game.
UCA coach Sandra Rushing said she'll act quickly if she feels her team is overwhelmed by the moment.
"My concern is our players being on the big stage for the first time," Rushing said. "If you see me use all my timeouts in the first five minutes to settle them down, that's what I'm going to do."
The DePaul-James Madison opener matches teams with similar talent and up-tempo styles.
"You can take the 6 and 11 (seeds) and throw it out the window," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said as his 20th-ranked Blue Demons prepare for their 14th straight NCAA tournament. "We're a 29 RPI, they're a 31 RPI. ... They've won 20 in a row for a reason."
James Madison overcame the preseason loss of Precious Hall, last season's CAA Player of the Year, with a knee injury. The Dukes went on to win the conference regular season and tournament titles for the third straight year.
JMU guard Angela "Muff" Mickens summed up the expected fast pace against DePaul this way: "Welcome to the track meet."
DePaul: The Blue Demons have won their third straight Big East regular season title. A victory could set up a rematch against former conference rival Louisville if the Cardinals win. ... Their 20.9 assists per game rank behind only Connecticut.
James Madison: The Dukes haven't lost since their CAA opener against William & Mary on Jan. 3. ... JMU also features conference Coach of the Year in Kenny Brooks and its top freshman in Kayla Cooper-Williams.
Louisville: The Cardinals hosted the regional final two years ago before losing to Maryland. ... Their hot streak included 15 straight wins with five over ranked schools.
Central Arkansas: The Sugar Bears have won 15 straight away from home. Their only road loss was Nov. 15 at Tennessee. ... UCA made the D-II Final Four in 2005.