The situation appeared dire for Jeff Walz' team.
Louisville missed their first 13 shots of the game and made just 22 percent in the first half. Trailing 34-22 at the break, Walz went into the locker room and showed why he's one of the elite coaches in women's college basketball.
"I challenged them at halftime as much as I could have challenged a group," Walz said. "I told Angel McCoughtry it was the worst I've seen her play. She was an embarrassment.
comeback for a win over Oklahoma.
"And that's the way we do things in our program, we're honest. And she came out in the second half and played the way she's supposed to play, and I'm so proud of her. And Candyce Bingham played for every second she was on the floor."
It was clear Louisville came out a little nervous under the bright lights. That wasn't shocking for a program making its first Final Four appearance. In the first half, the Cardinals were getting beat in transition for easy baskets and gave up three three's to Oklahoma's Whitney Hand.
In the locker room at halftime, Walz made some key adjustments to slow down Oklahoma's fast-break and lock down Hand on the perimeter. The Cardinals did both things after the break. For their effort, they'll play for the NCAA championship Tuesday night against UConn.
"It was a game that we just had to dig down," Walz said. "I thought we did a good job in the first half of defending when we got them in the half court. But, unfortunately, they scored on transition point after point, and that was just killing us. So it was just a crazy game. And I got to give a lot of respect to Oklahoma and Coach Coale. Those kids came out and battled, too. It's one of those you hate to see anyone lose, but we're really excited about things, and we're playing on Tuesday."
If the Cardinals were bad in the first half they were outstanding in the second half. Louisville opened the final period with a 15-1 run that got them back into contention and knocked the bigger Sooners on their heels.
Then McCoughtry got going. Though UofL's All-everything didn't make a basket in the first 20, she turned it up when her team needed it most, scoring 14 of her 18 points after the break while also grabbing 11 rebounds.
But it was Becky Burke who delivered the knock-out punch – a pair of three's in the final five minutes - for the Cardinals. With her team hanging onto a two-point lead, Burke nailed a huge three with 4:55 left to put Louisville up 55-50. After Courtney Parris made two free throws to cut the margin to 55-52, Burke answered with another three with 3:35 left to give the Cardinals a 58-52 lead. Louisville never trailed again in the game.
"I told my staff before the game started that I was concerned about the first five minutes of the game. If we could stay within (range) the first five minutes I felt good about things," Walz said. "And they were up, I think, 11-0 (in the first five minutes). And at half we go in 34-22.
"So we're only trailing by one after that first five minutes of the half. I felt good about things. I told our kids if we'll follow the game plan we have a chance to win. And we came out in the second half and followed it and knocked down some shots and were more patient at the offensive end. (But) I hope we don't come out like that on Tuesday."
Now Walz will try to find a chink in undefeated UConn's armor. In 38 games this season, Louisville has lost only four times – twice to the Huskies. Neither game was close and UConn blasted Louisville by 38 in the Big East Tournament championship game.
This is David vs. Goliath stuff here. We're talking about what would be one of the biggest – if not the biggest - upsets ever in women's college basketball. Still, only one team has an opportunity to slay the unbeaten giants Tuesday night in the title game – Louisville.
"(We're) playing for the national championship on Tuesday. So it doesn't matter what the scores have been in the past," Walz said. "We have to come out and play. Our game at UConn we played competitively for 12 minutes, which is encouraging.
"So we've got to just look at some of that and take the positive from it. Our game in the Big East finals they got us right from the start. (Again) the first five minutes is going to be crucial. And they really took it to us and we missed some shots that you have to make if you want to compete with a team like that because they are special."