By Sam Draut–
After Tuesday night’s 76-63 victory over Purdue, a win advancing the University of Louisville women’s basketball team to their fourth Sweet Sixteen in six years, head coach Jeff Walz would not comment on future opponent Baylor. After all, the Bears were the defending national champions, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, and 34-1. Arguably the most dominant team in women’s basketball, Baylor is led by 6-8 senior center Brittany Griner, who averages 24.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Griner has been one of the most impactful players in women’s basketball history, scoring over 3,000 points and blocking over 700 shots in her four year career.
It seemed all but assured that Baylor would coast to another Final Four to face other heavy weights like Notre Dame or UConn. Instead, one of the greatest upsets in the NCAA women’s tournament history occurred.
Louisville shocked top seeded Baylor with an 82-81 win, sending them to their first Elite Eight since 2009.
The Cardinals came out hot, hitting their first four 3-pointers, leading 18-7 through the first four minutes.
Baylor settled in, but Louisville’s junior forward Antonita Slaughter hit five 3-pointers in the first half, leading the Cardinals to a 39-29 lead at halftime.
Griner was limited to four first half points, but slowing her down had taken a toll on the Cardinals; sophomore forward Sara Hammond and junior guard Shoni Schimmel played limited minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
With 17:49 left in the second half, the Cardinals hit four consecutive threes in a matter of 127 seconds, stretching the lead to 51-35. Sophomore guard Jude Schimmel hit her second three with 12:10 left, giving U of L a 60-41 lead, their largest of the game.
Down 17 points with just less than 8 minutes left, Baylor began a feverish comeback. The Bears 19-4 run was sparked by junior guard Odyssey Sims; she finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds. Baylor cut the lead to 6 with three minutes left, but sophomore guard Bria Smith extended the lead to 8 with 2:34 left. Smith finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
With the Cardinals leading 78-72 with two minutes left, Smith had a strong take to the basket, but a Baylor defender slipped under her to force a controversial offensive foul. Walz was appalled and charged with a technical foul, resulting in two free throws swished by Sims. Following the free throws, Sims scored again, cutting the deficit to 78-76.
Off of a Baylor turnover, freshman guard Megan Deines scored off an inbound play from Jude Schimmel.
With 37 seconds left, Baylor cut the lead to one with a three pointer from Sims. The Cardinals struggled getting the ball in, and with 15 seconds left, Sims came up with a steal and was fouled, sending her to the line for two shots.
Sims sunk both free throws, giving Baylor their first lead of the game, 81-80.
U of L had the ball with nine seconds left. Senior forward Monique Reid received the ball near mid court and drove towards the nation’s leading shot blocker. Reid was fouled hard and sent to the line. A few possessions earlier she had missed the front end of a one and one. But Reid calmly stroked both free throws, giving Louisville an 82-81 lead with 2.6 seconds left.
Baylor’s desperation heave near mid court was no good, sending the Cardinals into a fury of celebration.
The Bears’ 32-game winning streak was snapped by Louisville answering the question of how to stop Brittany Griner. She finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, well under her season average. Also, the season high of 16 three pointers boosted the Cardinal offense; Slaughter went 7 of 9 from behind the arc, finishing with 21 points, while Shoni Schimmel hit five threes, finishing with 22 points.
After the game, NBA All-Star Kevin Durant appeared in U of L locker room, congratulating players on the upset victory.
Louisville faces Tennessee on Tuesday at 9 p.m. for a spot in the Final Four.
Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal