NEW ORLEANS - For giant-slaying Louisville, the magic continues.
After dispatching consensus No. 1 Baylor in the NCAA regional semifinals and then beating eight-time national champion Tennessee in the regional finals, Louisville pulled off yet another unlikely comeback by rallying from a 10-point deficit to defeat Cal 64-57 Sunday night in the national semifinals at the New Orleans Arena.
The victory sent the Cardinals (29-8) into the national championship game Tuesday night against Connecticut, which beat Notre Dame 83-65 in the other semifinals.
Louisville was only the second No. 5 seed to reach Final 4 - Southwest Missouri State was the other in 2001 - and no team seeded lower than fourth had ever won a Final Four game.
"We got one more game, one more day," said Louisville coach Jeff Walz. "It's a remarkable group of young ladies. I can't even put into words how proud I am. Tonight we were down 10 at half. We just chipped away."
In beating Tennessee 86-78 to make it to the Final Four for the second time in school history, the Cardinals made eight 3-pointers, and they matched that effort from the perimeter against Cal. Antonita Slaughter went 6 of 10 from long range, including 3 of 4 in the second half, to lead the Cardinals with a game-high 18 points. Slaughter, who leads the Cardinals with a 34.5 percentage from 3-point range, has gotten hot at the right time of the season.
"When I shoot the ball, my teammates have confidence in me, so that gives me confidence in myself," Slaughter said. "It all just comes with repetition. When I was down (in shooting confidence), I would stay after practice and shoot a little more."
Sara Hammond put Louisville ahead for good, 60-57, with 1:28 left, with a strong power move to the basket over Reshanda Gray and a follow-up foul shot. A few minutes earlier, Hammond had been called for a charge on a strong inside move, but she did not get down on herself.
Hammond's conventional three-point play gave her nine points for the game, all in the second half.
"Once we took that lead, I could see it on our kids' eyes - 'we can do this,'" Walz said.
Bria Smith, who scored 17 points, and Jude Schimmel added four insurance free throws down the stretch to ice the victory.
"It doesn't feel realistic right now," said Louisville point guard Shoni Schimmel, who struggled by shooting 1 of 8 from long range but had seven of her 10 points in the second half. "It hasn't set in that we're playing for the national championship. We've worked so hard to get here. We've gone through so much adversity. National championship, here we come."
California (32-4) shot lights-out (58.6 percent) and controlled the boards (23-11) in the first half to race to a 37-27 lead. But the Bears made only 9 of 30 shots from the field in the second half and committed 19 turnovers.
"It was a stretch midway through the second half ," said Layshia Clarendon, who led Cal with 17 points and played all 40 minutes. "Nineteen turnovers is high for us. We turned the ball over, and turnovers killed us a little bit. And, they hit some shots."
Louisville trailed 37-27 at halftime, but the Cardinals cranked up their defense and got their fast break going behind Shoni Schimmel. In one stretch, when Louisville cut a 47-39 lead to 47-46 in a 90-second span, Cal committed three consecutive turnovers.
The Cardinals scored the first seven points of the second half to cut a 10-point halftime deficit to 37-34, but Cal reasserted its strength inside to regain control, 45-37.
Louisville, however, continued battling back and had a chance to take the lead on two straight possessions. But Hammond was called for a charge - wiping out a possible three-point play - and Courtnee Walton missed a layup on the next series.
Brittany Boyd, playing with a jammed middle finger on her shooting hand, nailed a 3-pointer from the left baseline to put Cal on top 50-46 with 7:43 left.
Shoni Schimmel made a bank shot in the lane and Slaughter followed with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to move Louisville within 52-51 with 4:34 left.
NOTES: Cal outrebounded Louisville 38-26 for the game, but it was dead even, 15-15, in the second half, when Louisville outscored Cal 37-20...Louisville's Bria Smith, who had 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, was down on herself for committing eight turnovers, and she got an earful from Walz. "Coach was basically telling me I needed to slow down and stop controlling the ball so much," Smith said. But Smith said all that matters is surviving and advancing. "This is every basketball player's dream," Smith said. "But I think we're ready for it."... Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said while she was disappointed in the loss, "I'm going to think about that for two minutes, and for the next 10,000 minutes I'm going to think about what this group of women did for the University of California."