LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After a breathtaking upset of top-ranked Baylor in the Sweet 16, the University of Louisville women's basketball team didn't need to push on to the Final Four to make the season unforgettable.
It did anyway.
Against another women's college basketball blue blood -- the University of Tennessee -- the tenacious and resilient Cardinals blew out to an 20-point lead, then once again held on late and made big free throws to emerge with a 86-78 victory in Oklahoma City.
"We ruined the entire party!" U of L coach Jeff Walz shouted in his postgame interview on ESPN. "We're the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. Nobody gave us a chance in either of these two games. And we've shocked everybody. Everybody talked about our defense, we just hung 82 on a great Baylor team, then somehow figured out a way to score 85 tonight. We haven't scored like that in three months. I don't know where or how we were able to start making shots like this, but we did."
U of L is back in the Final Four for the second time in school history, the first in 2009, when the Cardinals advanced to the national championship game behind All-American Angel McCoughtry. They will face California in a national semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in New Orleans.
They also make U of L the only school in the country this season with a team in both the men's and women's hoops Final Four.
The Cardinals used the same kind of aggressive abandon in the early going to charge to the lead over Tennessee. They led by 15 at halftime and 20 early in the second half, then Tennessee made a massive late-game charge. The Vols cut into the lead, but unlike Baylor two nights before, could not take it.
With the Volunteers threatening late, The Schimmel sisters took the Cardinals the rest of the way home.
Shoni Schimmel charged into the lane with for a score with 2:40 left to put the Cards up six. Then her sister, Jude Schimmel stepped back and buried a three to put U of L up 77-68 with just under two minutes left.
Shoni, after a Tennessee three, went straight back to the rim for a layup to make it 79-71. After a Volunteers turnover, Jude navigated the press, drove into the lane and dished to Antonita Slaughter to put the Cardinals up 10 with one minute to play.
Tennessee missed several opportunities to cut into the lead with 43 seconds left, but Jude Schimmel poked loose an offensive rebound and Shoni corralled the loose ball with 42.1 seconds left, and made two free throws to put the Cardinals up 12, and it was all over but the free throw shooting.
"I told them at the end, I'm hard enough on you in practice that you're prepared for this situation," Walz said. "I'm so proud of every, single one of them."
The Cards made 8 of 22 threes and battled to just a 33-32 deficit on the boards against the much taller Volunteers. Shoni Schimmel played 40 minutes and scored 24 points. Jude added 13 points and dished out nine assists.
"It was just all or nothing, go out there and put it all on the line," Shoni Schimmel said. "Nobody wants us to win, nobody wants to see us beat Baylor or Tennessee, and now we did and guess what, we're going to the Final Four."
On the court, the U of L women's team posed with university president James Ramsey and members of the athletic department, and now will move on to New Orleans.