Sixteen three-pointers made, trying an NCAA tournament record. Normally, when that happens, the opposition is blown out handily. That was certainly the case for most of the game, as the Lady Bears struggled with the pure shot-making and physical play of the Louisville Cardinals. Down 19 points, by far a season high deficit, with just less than 10 minutes to go, all looked lost for the Lady Bears.
Their star center and once in a generation talent Brittney Griner, was frustrated and flummoxed into having one of the worst nights of her career. She missed her first 6 shots from the field, and didn't make a field goal till well into the second half. Louisville coach Jeff Walz called the defense a "claw and one," which was appropriate due to the very physical nature of the Cardinal defense.
The Lady Cardinals had one player right in front of Griner, usually face guarding her with a second defender right behind her. This took away all the space Griner had, especially down low where Louisville players pinned down hard on her. They did not let her feet have any room to move. Along with that, they physically punished Griner every time she tried to move around the court. Several times, you could see elbows being thrown into Griner's rib cage, and even what looked like a punch wildly thrown as a defender fell.
We have seen physical game plans before, but this seemed over the top. Unfortunately for the game, the officials were not calling much of anything and let the physical play continue, to the point of putting player safety at risk in certain moments. Through the first 10 minutes of action, this continued until players started to be separated after every whistle and stoppage.
In the second half though, it was the long range shooting of Louisville that left the marks on the Lady Bears. At one time, they were hitting over 75% from behind the arc, on their way to finishing the game at 16-25 for an NCAA record tying performance. As the lead ballooned to 19, the Lady Cardinals hit 7 three pointers in a row, putting the game supposedly out of reach.
However, this is a Lady Bears team that has shown no quit under Coach Mulkey, and behind the transcendent performance of Odyssey Sims, the fought back into the game, primarily behind their defense and Louisville actually missing some long shots.
The Lady Bears finally took the lead with 9 seconds left in the game, their first lead of the night on two Odyssey Sims free throws. However, the refs didn't miss an obvious foul on Brittney Griner with just over 2 seconds left, which sent senior Monique Reed to the line for two shots. Just seconds before, Reed had missed the front end of a one-and-one and had a bad inbounds pass that allowed the Lady Bears to take the lead. But this time, the senior stepped to the line, and got a good roll to tie the game, and then confidently nailed the second one, putting Louisville back up for good.
In the end, a half-court shot by Sims missed and the Lady Bears collapsed to the floor, their title dreams dashed by a team that simply played hard for the first 30 minutes and also had the shooting night of their dreams. As coach Walz said after "I don't know if we could go out there right now 5-on-0 and go 16 of 25." The career of Brittney Griner ends, before most ever expected it to, with just 2 Final Fours and one National Championship in her possession.