The Vols learned that the hard way last night.
Louisville 86, Tennessee 78
Fear the Cardinals!
After their historic take-down of Baylor on Sunday night, I wondered how much the Cardinals had left in the tank? Would they be able to put the Baylor game behind them and prepare for the Lady Vols? Would they have the mental strength and mental stamina for this Elite Eight game? Would they have dead legs? Those were legit questions.
Louisville came out and smoked Tennessee in the first half, but after building their lead to 20 points in the early moments of the second half, things fell apart for Jeff Walz' merry band. They looked discombobulated. Tennessee tightened the screws on defense and had a hand in just about every passing lane. Whereas in the first half, Louisville owned the offensive boards, the Vols shut that down. And mighty Tennessee started chipping away at the lead, going on an 18-6 rally that closed the gap to 68-65 with 4:28 remaining.
|photo: Sue Ogrocki, AP|
Then Shoni Schimmel woke up and energized her team. She drove the lane and put in a pair of spectacular lay ups. Her sister, Jude, drained a huge 3-point bucket.
The moment Shoni Schimmel put in that first lay up, it was all over for the Vols. As goes Shoni Schimmel, so go the Louisville Cardinals. There is a lot of playground superstar in that kid, is there not?
What they have done is nothing short of remarkable, slaying dragons right and left, making it to the Final Four after being seeded as a #6. After dispatching the great Brittney Griner and Baylor (the best team in the country and that's not my opinion: that was everybody's opinion), they had to face the Tennessee Lady Vols, the program which is women's basketball as Coke is to soda. Beyond question, Tennessee is most recognized, original brand in hoops. So thanks Shoni and thanks coach Jeff Walz and thanks to all the other players who have pulled some more magic to keep this run going.
Before I get carried away here, I should point out that while the Cardinals were 'dogs in both of these games, they are not a bad team that simply caught lightning in a bottle. All of the talking heads keep opining, "This team finished THIRD in the Big East." As though finishing third in the BE was a mark of shame or indicated mediocrity. Finishing third in the BE simply means that they finished behind two of best teams in the country in Notre Dame and UConn. Ain't no shame in that.
So let me take a moment to eulogize the Big East ...
Here is a tiny sampling of some of the great players we've seen in that time: Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery, Niele Ivey, Kia Vaughn, Angel McCoughtry, and the great Diana Taurasi.
Two Big East coaches have been inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Geno Auriemma and C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers.
This year, the conference gives us the gifts of Skylar Diggins, Shoni Schimmel and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, just to name a few. It is the conference that keeps on giving.
This year, at least one Big East team will play in the final, with the possibility of two (if Louisville can beat Cal in the Final Four.) It is a fitting swan song for this great conference.
There never has been, and may never be again, a women's basketball collection as great as this one.