- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- A look at the first half of Sunday's national semifinal between fifth-seeded Louisville and No. 2 seed Cal.
First-half analysis: Cal 37, Louisville 27
Overview: Louisville entered the game having trailed for just 20 seconds in the first four rounds, and its momentum made the trip from the regional in Oklahoma City. The surprise semifinalist jumped to an 8-2 lead against Cal. But unlike the games against Baylor and Tennessee, Cal didn't let Louisville build on that start. Behind calm leadership from Layshia Clarendon and a dominant post advantage, the Bears put the Cardinals on their heels.
Key player: Reshanda Gray. It's a pick that is a little out of left field. You could certainly make a great case for Cal's Clarendon, who never looked the slightest bit nervous before the game or frazzled by the early deficit. Her composure and points were Cal's backbone in the first half, especially in contrast to the struggles of Brittney Griner and Meighan Simmons against Louisville. But Clarendon was going to have to be good for Cal to play well. It wasn't just coincidence that Cal outscored Louisville by 12 points when Gray was on the court. The sophomore forward accentuated Cal's advantage inside and provided steadier play off the bench than starter Gennifer Brandon.
That the Cardinals are still in the game speaks well of Antonita Slaughter. She missed her first 3-point attempt on the game's first shot, but the sharpshooting hero of the Baylor win hit three from deep in the first 20 minutes Sunday.
Key stat: Cal entered the Final Four third in the nation in rebounding margin, slotting in just ahead of Connecticut and Notre Dame in the top five. The odd one out in so many ways in New Orleans, Louisville took the court No. 97 in the nation in rebounding. Sometimes the stats do mean something. Cal finished the half with a 23-11 rebound advantage. The Bears made the Cardinals pay with second-chance opportunities and got Louisville forward Sara Hammond in early foul trouble. Shoni Schimmel shot 1-for-7 and had three points in the first 20 minutes.
Key moment: It wasn't one moment, but Louisville's penchant for careless turnovers blunted its early momentum. Cal scored off back-to-back turnovers by Bria Smith and Shoni Schimmel in the span of 31 seconds in the game's fourth minute. There are live-ball turnovers that are worth the risk for a team that plays as free a style as the Cardinals, but neither of these qualified. They gave the Bears the easy points that allowed them to get their feet under them.