Cardinals’ Magical Run Comes Up Short in New Orleans
Sara Hammond came out with a quick three pointer and Louisville jumped out an early four point lead in the first half but Connecticut’s 19-0 run extended their lead to 29-14 at the 8:48 mark in the first period. This was too much to overcome for the Lady Cards as UConn (35-4) won the eighth national championship in program history, tying the University of Tennessee for first all-time.
Connecticut’s freshman phenom, forward Breanna Stewart was the game’s leading scorer with 23 points in addition to nine rebounds.
“You gotta give credit to her,” sophomore forward Sara Hammond said after the game. “She’s a tremendous athlete. She’s a freak of nature. She’s got the wingspan of Brittney Griner I think.”
Hammond, who had the tough matchup of guarding Stewart, was the only player to finish with double digits for the Cardinals (29-9) with 15 points and only five rebounds in 30 minutes of action.
Louisville was the lowest seed to suit up for the National Championship as a five seed. Their monumental and program-changing victories over Baylor and Tennessee made the loss little more bearable.
The most telling stat of the game was Connecticut’s three-point shooting. The Huskies connected on half of their attempts from behind arc, making 13. It seemed as if the Huskies didn’t miss a shot the entire game. They finished shooting 53 percent (35-66) from the field, including a staggering 63 percent (17-27) in the second half.
“I told our players, we’re going to have to try and make someone shoot the ball that normally might not,” Louisville head coach Jeff Walz stated. “But the problem is when you go 13 and 26 from the three-point line; it makes it tough to defend you.”
Louisville came out with a spark, knocking down a couple of threes but Huskies senior guard Kelly Farris stunted all momentum with two of her own.
“I thought Kelly Farris was great for them,” Walz said. “I think we started off in the second half and made a little run and she comes down and hits back-to-back threes to counter any kind of run we were trying to make.”
Connecticut’s head coach Geno Auriemma’s plan going into the game was to neutralize Cardinals star guard, Shoni Shimmel.
The plan worked flawlessly, Schimmel scored nine points off of 3-15 from the field.
When asked about the familiarity of the two teams and how ready Connecticut was to guard her, Schimmel stated, “Playing in the Big East, you kind of know each other; they knew what to do to stop us, to limit my touches.”
In her last game as a Cardinal, Monique Reid had five points and four rebounds.
“It was a special run and I’m glad I was able to do it with them team in my second national championship,” Reid said after the game. “We beat some great teams, and I’m so glad I was able to do it with these girls.”
Louisville looks to be a pre-season top-10 team next season. The Cardinals return top-scorer Shoni Schimmel, top rebounder Sara Hammond, as well as guard Bria Smith.
The devolvement of Jude Schimmel and Antonita Slaughter is a big plus for this team. Injuries also affected the Cardinals to a certain extent. Louisville lost three contributors of the previous year including starting forward Shawnta’ Dyer.
“I’m really excited about that,” said Walz when asked about the potential his team has next year. “But at the same time I’ve got to make sure my players understand that we just went on a pretty special run.”
Bria Smith added, “I’m extremely excited knowing that so many of our teammates are still going to be there. We are losing Shelby Harper and Monique Reid, but we are just going to have to keep on working and we will be here again, hopefully.”
The city’s celebration of the team’s success has the players feeling greatly appreciated.
“It means the world,” said Smith. “It just shows that everyone back home has been supporting us and it feels great.”
Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal