By Matt Bradshaw —

No. 1 seed women’s basketball (32-4) missed out on a second straight trip to the Final Four with a heartbreaking loss to No. 2 Connecticut (35-2) in the Elite Eight. Louisville trailed for most of the high-octane matchup before mustering a late comeback and losing 80-73.

“I want to congratulate UConn in what was a great basketball game that went down to the wire,” head coach Jeff Walz said. “I was very proud of our young women. We refused to quit. Continued to compete. And that’s what you ask of them.”

Through three quarters and most of the fourth, the Cards struggled to keep up with UConn’s red-hot offense. The Huskies shot 54 percent from three-point range, compared to Louisville’s meager 18 percent, as they led a majority of the minutes.

Still, Louisville managed to stay within striking distance with the help of all-around play. Senior Asia Durr scored 21 points, but she only shot 7-for-19 from the field and 1-for-6 from three-point range. The Cardinals held their largest advantage with 34-20 points in the paint, though they lost the rebounding battle 42-36.

With 1:47 left in the fourth quarter, UConn had its largest lead at 74-63. The Huskies had answered every run the Cards made up to that point, and Louisville was not finished. Durr, along with seniors Sam Fuehring and Arica Carter, combined for a clutch 10-1 run to trail by two at 75-73.

Everything fell in place for Louisville in that minute of play, but the thought of a full-on comeback was short-lived. UConn converted on two free throws for a 77-73 lead, then a string of misses sealed the Cardinals’ fate.

“I tell our players all the time, lose because you’re not making shots,” Walz said. “And in the first half, we had some pretty good looks, they just didn’t go down. We are what we are. We’re a jump-shooting team…But we didn’t put our heads down. We kept fighting.”

Durr missed a pair of free throws to again cut the deficit to two. Fuehring got the offensive rebound, and the Huskies blocked her shot to put the game on ice. UConn went on to make a few more free throws for the 80-73 win.

Looking for back-to-back Final Fours for the first time in program history, Louisville’s loss hurts as much a loss can and more. Connecticut reaches its 12th straight Final Four with the win and holds a 18-2 all-time advantage in its series with Louisville, including two postseason meetings in the 2009 and 2013 National Championship games.

No matter the outcome, this season was one to remember for the Cardinals. They solidified themselves as elites in the ACC with a second consecutive regular season conference title. The program will graduate the winningest class in history with Durr, Fuehring and Carter. And reaching second on the program’s all-time scoring list, Louisville fans will forever remember Durr as one of the most prolific players in program history.

“It sucks,” Walz said. “I feel bad for these three women here (Durr, Fuehring and Carter). You can’t put a price tag on what they have meant to our university and our city. They won’t be forgotten.”

It’s hard to see Louisville’s team returning better than ever next year with the loss of such successful seniors, but the Cards will still return a tournament team with talents like Dana Evans, Jazmine Jones, Bionca Dunham and beyond. Louisville’s incoming recruiting class will hopefully make some noise, as well, and start the makings of another national championship contender.

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File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal