RALEIGH, N.C. – Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham remembered the crushing feeling they had in the locker room last year after Louisville blew a huge lead and lost in the NCAA tournament.
This time, the Cardinals gathered at midcourt to celebrate after the horn.
McCoughtry had 22 points and 12 rebounds while Bingham sparked the decisive second-half run to help the Cardinals beat Baylor 56-39 on Saturday, sending them to the first regional title game in school history.
Bingham had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Cardinals (32-4), the No. 3 seed in the Raleigh Regional. That included a pair of critical 3-pointers during Louisville’s 12-0 spurt midway through the half that finally blunted a gritty performance by the second-seeded Bears (29-6).
Louisville, which closed the game on an 18-2 run, advanced to Monday night’s regional final to face top-seeded Maryland. It will be an emotional matchup for second-year Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who spent five years as an assistant at Maryland and was part of the Terrapins’ 2006 national championship team.
“As excited as I am, I’m even more excited for these kids because we work them hard, I’m telling you,” Walz said. “We have got to be the tougher team on the floor. The first 6 minutes of the second half, we weren’t. They got loose balls, they beat us down the floor in transition. After we got that straightened out, I thought we started to play the way we needed to play.”
It was a reversal of last year’s frustrating performance in this same position. In that game, the Cardinals – in the round of 16 for the first time – blew an 18-point, first-half lead against top-seeded North Carolina and lost 78-74.
This time, with both teams fighting for every basket, the Cardinals came through with the clinching plays that had slipped away from them against the Tar Heels.
For McCoughtry, the motivation was simple.
“We are not going to go back in that locker room and have that feeling again,” she said. “Me and Candyce put the team on our backs because we know how it feels.”
With the Cardinals leading 38-37, Bingham took a feed from McCoughtry and buried a 3-pointer from the left corner with 6:53 to play. On the next possession, Deseree Byrd drove, and her shot was blocked by Kelli Griffin from behind. But she controlled the rebound and stuck it back in.
Two possessions later, Bingham came through again, taking a feed from Byrd and knocking down a straightaway 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 47-37 with 3:40 to play. McCoughtry closed the run with a three-point play, scoring in the paint on a hanging drive despite getting knocked to the ground to make it 50-37 with about 3 minutes left.
Before Bingham’s two 3-pointers, Louisville had missed 13 of 14 3-point tries. She had made just seven all season.
“I don’t really shoot them, but it’s not like I don’t work on them in practice,” Bingham said. “I just don’t shoot them during games. Angel saw me on the wing, and I just took them with confidence.”