OKLAHOMA CITY — Sponging up tales of Jim Valvano and Muhammad Ali, the Louisville Cardinals are embracing the role of the underdog in the most fearless of fashions.
Two of women's basketballs biggest powers didn't faze them. Why should the Final Four?
Shoni Schimmel scored 24 points and plucky Louisville beat second-seeded Tennessee 86-78 Tuesday night to earn the school's second trip to the Final Four, continuing a captivating postseason run.
Two nights after taking down Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor, the fifth-seeded Cardinals (28-8) built a 20-point lead and then withstood a second-half comeback by the powerhouse Lady Vols (27-8) before celebrating another big victory.
"It's a remarkable group. It's an unbelievable story. That's really what it is," coach Jeff Walz said. "And we aren't planning on it to end right now."
When it was over, the Cardinals huddled at center court and celebrated. Tennessee headed home with a third straight loss in the regional finals, failing to make the Final Four for a fifth straight year.
"We ruined the entire party," Walz said. "We're the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. No one gave us a chance and we shocked everybody. It's a journey and we're going to continue."
Taber Spani led the Lady Vols with 20 points, and Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams chipped in 12 apiece.
Louisville joined the school's men's team in the Final Four, marking the 10th time that a program had both teams make it that far. Only Connecticut has won both titles in the same season, in 2004 — the last time the women's champion was crowned in New Orleans.
The Cardinals became only the second No. 5 seed to reach the national semifinals, joining Southwest Missouri State's 2001 team that featured guard Jackie Stiles, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history. Only seven teams outside of the top four seeds have ever made it to the Final Four since the NCAA tournament started in 1982.
No team seeded higher than fourth has ever won a game at the Final Four.
But the seemingly impossible hasn't stopped this group of Cardinals yet.
First, they took down Griner and her Baylor team that had lost just once in 75 games. Then, it was the eight-time national champion Lady Volunteers.
Next up is a Sunday showdown in New Orleans against California, the Spokane regional champion.
"No one wanted to see us beat Baylor and Tennessee and we did both of those, and now we're going to the Final Four," Schimmel said.
The Cardinals' only other Final Four trip was in 2009, ending in a loss to Big East rival Connecticut in the championship game. Tennessee was trying to add to its NCAA-record 18 Final Four trips.
Walz showed the team the documentary on Valvano's North Carolina State 1974 team that made perhaps the most notable Cinderella run to the men's championship. He also showed them footage of Ali and took them to Ali's center in Louisville.
"Seeing a lot of the underdog things like that, it just motivated us even more to believe in each other and believe in ourselves," said Schimmel's younger sister, Jude, who scored 15 points.
Notre Dame 87, Duke 76
At Norfolk, Va., Skylar Diggins shook off early foul trouble to score 24 points and Notre Dame rallied to beat Duke and earn its third consecutive trip to the Final Four.
Kayla McBride added 17 points while Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa had 17 each as the Fighting Irish (35-1) won their school-record 30th consecutive game, earning a fourth meeting with Connecticut. Notre Dame has won the first three this season and beaten UConn in the past two Final Fours.
Tricia Liston led Duke (33-3) with 19 points, but the Blue Devils had no answer when Notre Dame used a 15-2 run early in the second half to take a 50-42 lead. The Blue Devils lost in the regional finals for the fourth straight year, failing once again to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2006. Haley Peters added 15 points for Duke.