Hours after the Louisville men’s team dismantled Duke to advance to the Final Four, the Lady Cardinals upset the heavy favorite and No. 1 Baylor Bears, 82-81, in what many are calling one of the greatest upsets in women’s NCAA Tournament history.
Why? Louisville was a 5th-seed that finished third in the Big East. It has no player taller than 6-foot-2 and was a 26-point underdog. Baylor was the defending champion that won 32 straight games and 74 of its last 75, featuring likely repeat player of the year in 6-foot-8 Brittany Griner, who will be noted as the best center to play women’s college hoops.
But the Cardinals overcame all that, barely, with a gutsy performance that limited Griner to no points for the first 24-plus minutes and 14 points for the game. She also committed a foul with 2.6 seconds left in the game with her team up by a point. Louisville’s Monique Reid made free throws to secure the mammoth victory.
“I’m just sad,” Griner said. “I didn’t do what I needed to do to get my team to the Elite Eight and just disappointment in myself.”
Louisville coach Jeff Walz used a creative defense scheme to limit Griner, who averaged 33 points in Baylor’s first two tournament games. He called it the “claw and one,” positioning one player in the front of Griner, another behind her, and another player in the vicinity.
“I think I could smell what toothpaste she used,” Louisville’s Antonita Slaughter (21 points from seven three-pointers) said. “I was in her face the whole time with my hands up.”
In erasing a 17-point deficit, Baylor’s Odyssey Sims (28 points) showed her talent and will. The guard was also clutch, making basket after basket down the stretch, including two free throws to put the Bears in front, 81-80, with 9.1 left. Louisville pushed the ball up court frantically, with Reid getting the angle on Griner before she was fouled.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “It’s hard to lose when it’s your last game, but it’s even harder the way that game ended. Makes it a little tougher.”
She was speaking of the outcome, but also the referees, who made controversial calls against both teams in key moments.
“I thought that all three of (the refs), if they go past this round of officiating, it will be sad for the game,” Mulkey said.
It was all smiles in the other locker room. NBA star Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder visited the Cardinals’ quarters post game, an extra bonus for a team that deserved it.
The Lady Cardinals, who made 16 of 25 three-pointers against Baylor, tying a tournament record, to build its lead, will now face the Tennessee on Tuesday night for the right to advance to the Final Four.
“I don’t know if we could go out there right now (with no one guarding us) and go 16 of 25, but we did it in the biggest game of the year for us and now we’re going to hopefully keep our momentum going and see what we can do on Tuesday,” Walz said.