Forget about crashing the party, the giant-slaying Louisville Cardinals are the life of the party. And oh what a party the Final Four in New Orleans is.
In a wild second half last night, the Cardinals soared back to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to beat the second-seeded Cal Golden Bears, 64-57. The fifth-seeded Cards became the lowest seed to win a Final Four game in NCAA women's tournament history. Now, they'll need one more upset to win the 2013 NCAA women's national championship.
"No one expects us to be here," the Cardinals Antonita Slaughter said. "No one expects us to be in the championship game. Just come together as a team and win as a team."
Slaughter was a hero for the U of L last night, leading the team in scoring with 18 points–all from downtown.
In a game of two halves, the suprising semifinalist Cards started quickly, building an 8-2 lead, but struggled most of the first half. Jude Schimmel's three-pointer got Louisville as close as 25-22 midway through the half, but the Cardinals had trouble keeping pace while Shoni Schimmel, their leading scorer, missed six of her first seven shots. Cal took a daunting 37-27 lead into the locker room.
But that's why they play a second half.
"We come out, we executed perfectly to start the second half," Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said. "Once we took the lead, I could see it in our kids' eyes, the excitement, 'Hey, we can do this, we're going to do this."
[Key stat: After allowing 12 transition points in the first half, Louisville limited Cal to two transition points after intermission, including no transition plays in the final 13:01 of the game. The slower pace worked to the Cardinals advantage, as they forced a turnover on 32.1 percent of the Golden Bears half-court possessions in the second half, while holding them to 28.6 percent shooting (ESPN Stats & Information)]
Shoni Schimmel, who has been one of the stars of the tournament, struggled early for Louisville, but finished with 10 points, including a clutch transition pull-up that gave Louisville a 57-54 lead with 2:06 left. Shoni also had a team-leading six assists and four rebounds. Sister Jude, the super sixth-woman, tallied nine points and 4 rebounds. The sisters are from the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon.
The Cardinals will take on the powerhouse seven-time national champion UConn Huskies Tuesday, April 9, in the national championship game. The game tips off at approximately 8:30 p.m./ET; ESPN will televise, with ESPN3 livestreaming (check Espn.com/watchespn for details).
There are so many intriguing storylines to this year's championship game. This is the second time the Cardinals have played for a national title, with the first just four years ago, in 2009, against, you guessed it, UConn. The Huskies, who went a perfect 39-0 that year, crushed the Cards 76-54 in the title game. Revenge would be sweet, especially versus their Big East nemesis. In their conference tilt earlier this season, the Huskies beat the Cards 72-58.
This is only the tenth year that both the men's and women's teams from the same chool have reached the Final Four. And only once have both of those teams won titles in the same year: UConn in 2009. This year, the Louisville men will play for the championship tonight, one day before the Lady Cards go at UConn (The Louisville men's team tips off against the Michigan Wolverines at approximately 9:20 p.m./ET tonight; the game will air live on CBS (check your local listings)).
"The way I look at it, I think the men are trying to feed off of our success," coach Walz said with a smirk before adding on a serious note that he'd received word from Atlanta that the Louisville men "were in the hotel lobby jumping up and down and cheering for us" after the Schimmels and the women's team knocked out Cal last night.