NEW ORLEANS — The more Louisville extends its remarkable run, the more coach Jeff Walz wants to make sure his Cardinals enjoy every moment.
As long as they have one more upset in them for the NCAA championship game.
The upstart Cardinals got 18 points — all on 3-pointers — from Antonita Slaughter and they methodically clawed back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat California 64-57 on Sunday night in the NCAA semifinals. For a team that has beaten Baylor, Tennessee and now the second-seeded Golden Bears, a little celebration was in order.
"We're going to go on Bourbon Street," said Walz, whose team has one last practice today before Tuesday night's title game. "I'll tell the kids, as long as they're back by 2, we're OK."
Bria Smith scored 17 on 6 of 7 shooting for the fifth-seeded Cardinals (29-8), who became the first team seeded lower than fourth to win a Final Four game. The result ensures an all-Big East Conference final in the league's last season in its current form, with Louisville meeting Connecticut one night after the Louisville men's team plays Michigan for the championship.
"The way I look at it, I think the men are trying to feed off of our success," Walz said with a smirk before adding on a serious note that he'd received word from Atlanta that the Louisville men "were in the hotel lobby jumping up and down and cheering for us."
Layshia Clarendon scored 17 for Cal (32-4), which had won the Spokane Region as a second seed. Gennifer Brandon added 12 for the Golden Bears and Brittany Boyd added 10 points.
"Credit Louisville, which obviously has been really hot," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "They outfought us in the second half."
It was the third straight upset by Louisville, which had to beat defending national champion Baylor and the powerful Lady Vols just to get to the Big Easy. They will need to summon one more to win it all. Not that they're worried about it.
"No one expects us to be here," Slaughter said. "No one expects us to be in the championship game. Just come together as a team and win as a team."
Shoni Schimmel, who had been one of the stars of the tournament, struggled early for Louisville, but finished with 10 points, including a clutch transition pull-up that gave Louisville a 57-54 lead with 2:06 left.
Clarendon responded with a left win 3 of her own to tie it, but Sara Hammond, playing with four fouls for the last 7:20, gave the Cardinals the lead for good with a strong move inside as she was fouled. Suddenly, Cal was forcing desperate 3s and not hitting them.
After shooting 58. 6 percent (17 of 29) in the first half, Cal shot only 30 percent (9 of 30) in the second, negating the Bears' 38-26 advantage in rebounds.
"In the first half we got out a lot on the run. We didn't get a chance to run at all (in the second half) because we weren't getting stops," Clarendon said. "We made a lot of mistakes. It's not like we played somebody who was too good and just flat out beat us."
Connecticut 83, Notre Dame 65
At New Orleans, Breanna Stewart put on quite a show to help UConn finally vanquish Notre Dame.
The stellar freshman scored a career-high 29 points to go with four blocks, leading the Huskies to the national championship game with a win over Notre Dame.
The Huskies will face Louisville in the championship game Tuesday night in an all-Big East final after the Cardinals rallied to beat California 64-57 in the other NCAA semifinal. UConn will be going for its eighth national championship to match Tennessee for the most in women's basketball history.
No team has dominated Geno Auriemma's Huskies the way that the Irish had over the past few seasons.
UConn (34-4) had lost the previous two national semifinals to the Irish and dropped three thrilling games this season to their rival.
Stewart and her teammates wouldn't let it happen again, ending the brilliant career of Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins. She finished her last college game with 10 points, going a dismal 3 for 15 from the field.
"Once you get here you're only gonna beat great teams. And the reason Notre Dame has beaten us seven of the last eight times is because they're really, really good," Auriemma said. "For one night, that's what's great about the NCAA tournament, for one night, for just this night, we just needed to be better than them, and we were."