Louisville is hoping to match that Tuesday night, at the expense of the Huskies no less.
One night after the Louisville men survived Michigan's upset bid and cut down the nets at the Georgia Dome, the Cardinal women will try to topple mighty UConn in the women's title game and bring another trophy to the Derby City. Should the Cardinals do it, it would only be the latest moment of athletic glory for Louisville in a 2012-13 school year that also included the football team winning 11 games and stunning heavily favored Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
"We're all huge supporters of each other," Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz said. "Our athletic director came to me [Sunday] and said, hey, the men's team was in the hotel lobby jumping up and down and cheering for us. I've gotten a text from Rick already congratulating us and telling me to tell the players what an unbelievable job they did. And it's special. I'm very fortunate, very fortunate to have a men's coach, as high profile as he is, to really genuinely care about the women's program. It speaks volumes for him, speaks volumes for his program."
Whereas the Louisville men brought back the core of last year's Final Four team and began the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, Walz's team is as a rare underdog story in women's basketball. The Cardinals are only the second No. 5 seed to make the women's Final Four and first team seeded fifth or higher to win a national semifinal, accomplishments made all the more remarkable by the fact their draw was anything but favorable.
They comfortably ousted perennial mid-major power Middle Tennessee and Big Ten power Purdue in the opening two rounds. They survived a furious Baylor rally to stun the defending champs 82-81 in the Sweet 16. And they rode the momentum of one of the biggest upsets in women's college basketball history to victories over powerhouse Tennessee in the Elite Eight and Pac-12 co-champ Cal in the Final Four.
"It's every girl's dream in the women's game to go out there and play for a national championship," Louisville guard Shoni Schimmel said. "Our coaches have done a great job of preparing us and getting us to this point, and they've done a lot of it, but also our team has just come together as one and just gone out there and played our hearts out."
It will take one more upset for Louisville to raise a second championship banner at the Yum! Center next fall. UConn, which boasts seven national titles and has played in each of the past six Final Fours, enters Tuesday night's game as the clear-cut favorite despite not having as dominant a regular season as usual.
Despite returning six of its top seven players from last year's Final Four run, UConn lost four regular season games this season, one to Baylor and three against Big East champion Notre Dame. The Huskies have not been challenged in the NCAA tournament, though, winning all five games by at least 18 points including a satisfying 83-65 victory over the Fighting Irish on Sunday night behind a career-high 29 points from freshman Breanna Stewart.
The only time UConn and Louisville met in the regular season, the Huskies emerged with a fairly routine 72-58 victory on Jan. 15. The stakes will be a bit higher on Tuesday night, with one school going for championship No. 8 and the other aiming to make history.
"We're gonna have to play better than we played against Baylor, better than we played against Tennessee and Cal," Walz said. "We're gonna have to play 40 minutes of pretty much perfect basketball, which I think we can. It's like I've said from day one: I'm just glad it's not a best‑of‑seven series."
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