RALEIGH, N.C. – As the Louisville Cardinals circled around to cut down the nets for the first time, the scoreboard clock still showed one-tenth of a second remaining.
How appropriate: time hasn’t run out yet on the most successful tournament run in Cardinals history.
Louisville is headed to the women’s Final Four for the first time, after Angel McCoughtry finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds in a 77-60 upset of top-seeded Maryland in the Raleigh Regional final Monday.
Deseree Byrd added 17 points and nine assists and Candyce Bingham had 15 points for the third-seeded Cardinals (33-4).
They never trailed and led by double figures for virtually the entire second half in continuing an improbable march through the bracket that started on LSU’s inhospitable home court.
“(The players) had to get us out of Baton Rouge … and they did that. I told them, ‘If you get that done, we’ll get you to the Final Four,’ ” coach Jeff Walz said. “They believed in everything we told them. They sat there and they laid it on the line for us. They followed a game plan tonight as well as any team I’ve coached. It’s a credit to them to believing in what we’re doing, and it shows.”
They did, and now they’ve earned a spot against the winner of the Oklahoma City regional – Oklahoma or Purdue – Sunday night in St. Louis.
“I’m dreaming right now,” McCoughtry said. Then, she gestured to Byrd and added, “pinch me, Des.”
Marissa Coleman finished with 18 points two nights after scoring a career-high 42 against Vanderbilt and Marah Strickland added 15 for the top-seeded Terrapins (31-5), who finally ran out of comebacks. Two nights after rallying from 18 down to beat the Commodores, the Terps turned it over 21 times – a major reason why they were denied their fourth trip to the national semifinals.
“They did a really good job of making us uncomfortable, throwing different looks at us,” guard Kristi Toliver said. “They wanted to be physical from the beginning. We knew they were going to be that way, and we never really could get into rhythm.”
Headed there instead is a team led by a Baltimore native, McCoughtry, and coached by a former Maryland assistant.
It was emotionally draining for Walz, who spent six years assisting Brenda Frese.
“I told them it’s one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to coach,” Walz said.