- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Letdown? What letdown? Did we think Louisville would still be basking in the glow of the Cardinals' tournament-rocking upset of No. 1 Baylor? And not entirely focused on the last step to the Final Four, beating Tennessee? If so, they dismissed any such notion immediately in an 86-78 victory in the Elite Eight over the No. 2 seed Lady Vols.
Louisville pretty much controlled this game start to finish, even though Tennessee did rally in the final 10 minutes. Defensively, the Cardinals disrupted the Lady Vols and made Tennessee seem rather uncertain on offense for too much of the game. And offensively, the Cardinals shared the ball well. They didn't shoot the 3-pointer as insanely well as they did against Baylor, but they didn't need to. They still made eight 3-pointers and were 18-of-21 from the foul line.
Louisville becomes just the second No. 5 seed to make the NCAA Women's Final Four; the other was Jackie Stiles-led Missouri State in 2001. This is Louisville's second trip to the Final Four, having lost in the championship game to UConn in 2009.
In the last year of the Big East as we know it, three teams from the league will go to the Final Four, with Louisville joining No. 1 seeds Notre Dame and UConn. And for the 10th time, a school is sending both its men's and women's teams to the Final Four in the same year. A quick reaction:
Overview: Tennessee getting beat down the court with baseball passes? The Lady Vols' defense being dissected by sharp cuts and bounce passes? Louisville hitting clutch outside shots? Louisville did all of that in the first half to establish a 41-26 lead.
Tennessee played better on both ends of the court in the second half, but still could not quite catch up because Louisville was able to do enough offensively.
Turning point: Tennessee had cut the lead to 72-68 after Meighan Simmons hit a stumbling-backward 3-pointer with 3:08 left. It looked as if Tennessee might just reel in the Cardinals. But then hoops acrobat Shoni Schimmel made a scoop layup for the Cardinals that just seemed to send the message: "You're not going to catch us." And Tennessee didn't.
Key player: Just as she did in the upset of Baylor, Shoni Schimmel led the Cardinals in scoring (24 points) and was their emotional leader. She also had three assists and was named the regional's most outstanding player.
Key stat: Tennessee's starting backcourt of Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale was just about as ineffective shooting Tuesday as it was Sunday in the win against Oklahoma. It didn't hurt the Lady Vols against the Sooners because their defense was so good, but it did hurt against Louisville. Simmons and Massengale were a combined 7-of-41 from the field in the two games, with a combined nine turnovers.
What's next: Louisville moves on to the program's second Final Four, where the Cardinals will face No. 2 seed Cal, winner of the Spokane Regional, on Sunday in New Orleans. Tennessee loses seniors Taber Spani, who had 20 points in her final game and was on the all-regional team, and Kamiko Williams. The Lady Vols were denied a 19th Final Four; they have not advanced that far since winning the NCAA title in 2008. Tennessee finishes the season 27-8.
13dBonnie D. Ford