NEW ORLEANS -- Monique Reid might be limping toward the end of her college career, but she's about to put some distance between herself and any other woman who has played basketball at the University of Louisville.
She grew up going to Louisville games long before her hometown school started playing games in a downtown NBA-style arena. She was the kid who attended all the basketball camps and sat in the front row when the Cardinals played. She was the ball girl who idolized players like Sara Nord. And Sunday, she'll become the first player in program history to play in two Final Fours.
Reid almost certainly won't be in the starting lineup Sunday when No. 5 Louisville plays No. 2 California in the first of two NCAA tournament semifinals in New Orleans Arena. She's started just once in 28 appearances this season. Even Louisville coach Jeff Walz isn't trying to play mind games with anyone when it comes to how much his 6-foot-1, fifth-year senior can bring after she sat out last season with a knee injury and re-injured the knee midway through this season.
"I can honestly say she's probably 50 percent," Walz said. "She played 33 minutes [in the regional final], which is the most she's played this entire season, I believe. I just admire her because she is just willing to continue to fight."
In a Final Four whose composition is proof of the rigors of the Big East, it's a tough farewell for a player who was once not just one of that league's most promising young players but one of its best players, period. Before Shoni Schimmel arrived in the Bluegrass State, Reid was the player who was supposed to get Louisville back to a Final Four without Angel McCoughtry.
Coming off the high of an appearance in the national championship game, the Cardinals struggled through their first season in the post-McCoughtry era. Beset by injuries and unexpected departures -- in addition to the matriculation of their All-American and underrated forward Candyce Bingham -- the team slumped in the 2009-10 campaign to a 14-18 record and an ignominious first-round exit against Bradley in a third-tier postseason tournament. But it would have been an even more precipitous drop without Reid, who earned first-team all-conference honors in the Big East and averaged 18.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game during the 2009-10 season.
Even as Schimmel arrived and began to stake her claim to the hearts -- and heart pressure -- of Louisville fans a season later, Reid repeated as a first-team all-Big East selection.
Louisville revels in its Cinderella roll at the moment, but this is a team that began last season ranked No. 9 in the AP preseason poll, optimism in part based on Reid's presence. She played just eight games, the rest of her season wiped out by microfracture surgery on her left knee. She returned this season with a plan in place to manage her minutes early. The pain never completely went away, but gradually, she regained some of her old touch. She scored at least 20 points in back-to-back games around the time the calendar turned to 2013.
Then, in a practice after a January game against Marquette, she hurt the same knee.
Per Walz, "They basically said at that point in time, 'You need more surgery. We can do it now, [and] you're finished for the year. Or we can wait until the end of the year and see if you can't manage your pain and swelling until it's finished.' "
She missed just five games initially and returned with eight points and eight rebounds in an important win against DePaul.
"There was no doubt in my mind what she was going to choose, and that is she wanted to play," Walz said. "And that's what she's done for our program."
Her free throws clinched the Sweet 16 upset against Baylor, and her 12 points in the regional final against Tennessee were crucial. And as Sunday arrives, she has more than earned the privilege to stand alone in Louisville history.
"I have a lot of fight in me; I'm not going to quit," Reid said. "I'm basically playing on one leg now, and I'm pushing and leaving it out on the floor. You only get this once, and I'm just going to leave everything on the floor, whether I'm on one leg or half a leg. I'm just glad Coach has enough faith in me with one leg to play."