BOZICH | Pain -- and questions -- after Louisville's Final Four defeat
Louisville lost its national semifinal game in overtime to Mississippi State Friday night -- and there will be plenty to howl about for years for the Cardinals.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDRB) — This was not making the free throws to beat UCLA, stepping out of bounds too soon against Clemson or giving up the grand slam to California-Santa Barbara.
If you’re a University of Louisville sports fan, you can fill in the blanks with every detail from those defeats without assistance from me because the sting resonates from those men’s basketball, football and baseball defeats days, years, decades later.
That will be the same pile where you can file the 73-63 overtime loss that the U of L women’s basketball team endured against Mississippi State Friday night in the national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena.
There will be howling at the officiating -- after two Cardinals fouled out and the Bulldogs shot 18 more free throws.
There will be howling at decisions by coach Jeff Walz, who chose not to foul when fouling might have iced the game.
There will be howling about Louisville’s struggle while shooting the ball from distance as they missed 16 of 20 three-point shots.
There will be howling about the future of the program, after Walz replied to a question about him remaining the U of L coach next season by saying (in part), "Would I like to be here? Yes. But it's a matter of getting things worked out and seeing where it goes."
There will howling simply to howl.
You can consider it an opportunity lost. You can also consider it the latest confirmation of how emphatically Walz has grown the program because a loss can only sting the way this one will sting when the moment matters as much as this one did.
“A lot of mixed emotions to be honest,” said Louisville forward Myisha Hines-Allen.
“I know we just lost, my season is over. It hit me already. I wish it didn’t but it did.”
There will be more regret than usual, especially after Notre Dame, a team that Louisville defeated twice this season, upset Connecticut in the second semifinal to earn an opportunity to grab the national championship that the Cardinals could have won.
Most of the howling will surround the final 11 seconds. That’s how much time remained when Hines-Allen flashed from the right corner, eluded Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State’s mammoth center, and made a crafty reverse layup that pushed Louisville ahead, 59-56.
No way Louisville loses now, right?
The Cards had a foul to give. They could have fouled once and forced the Bulldogs to burn more clock and inbound the basketball a second time. Then they could have fouled a second time and sent the Bulldogs to the line to shoot the bonus without giving them an opportunity to make a game-tying three.
They did neither.
I’m not certain. The explanation varied, depending upon who answered the question. Hines-Allen and guard Arica Carter said they were told not to foul.
Walz said that was not the plan. The plan was not to foul immediately, only after State burned a few seconds. But Walz said he did not want to foul twice. He preferred to risk giving up a game-tying three-pointer over giving State the opportunity to make one free throw and then score the game-tying basket on an offensive rebound by McCowan, who is 6-feet-7 and capable of grabbing every rebound in a 10-mile radius.
Walz made the wrong decision.
State worked the ball to Roshunda Johnson, who brushed off a screen to take a pass from Morgan William. She squared up from the left side when Louisville misplayed the switch on the screen.
Count it. For three.
“The plan was to switch everything but we got caught up,” Carter said. “It’s OK. It happens.”
Not here. Not with a national title at stake. Not OK.
Hines-Allen said the blame belonged with her, not her coach.
“We were going to give them a two but no threes,” she said “It was on my part that I messed up and I didn’t switch with AC off the three. And Johnson got that open three. So I take full responsibility for this loss. it was my mistakes us that cost us the game.”
It was an admirable admission from a senior who closed her career as one of the program’s all-time great players on a night when she scored 11 points with four rebounds.
But that play was just the tip of the howling. Hines-Allen nearly won the game seconds later, roaring down the left side of the floor for a shot at the rim in the final second.
She was stopped by McCowan, who appeared to make contact with Hines-Allen’s right shoulder. Hines-Allen finished the play on the floor, colliding with the padded base of the goal. The ball rolled off the rim.
A whistle was not blown.
I asked Hines-Allen if she had been fouled. Certainly appeared that way. I asked a writer from Connecticut. He didn't have a team in the game. "That's a foul," the writer said.
“I was just looking to make the layup,” she said. “I wasn’t really looking to where she was or whether she was bodying me, I was more so focused on the layup, The ref didn’t call a foul so there was no foul.”
But did McCowan bump you?
“If the ref didn’t call it, no,” she said.
The overtime was no contest. Louisville was outscored 14-4. The Cardinals never led. They missed their first five field goal attempts.
Carter fouled out, taking a spot on the sidelines with Sam Fuehring, who was called for a personal foul and technical foul with 2:42 remaining in the fourth quarter in a one-point game
Either call — the personal or the technical — will be debated as vigorously as Louisville’s inability to foul Mississippi State at the end of regulation.
Fuehring appeared to be pulled to the floor by McCowan, whose forearm wrapped around Fuehring’s neck. When Fuehring hit the floor and heard the whistle, she thought she would be shooting free throws.
“I thought it was going to be on her because that was kind of like how it goes,” Fuehring said. “My head was literally backwards. She pretty much put her forearms into my head. It just didn’t seem right.”
She did not get the call — or the next one. Fuehring was assessed her fourth personal foul — and then was quickly directed to the bench because the officials added a technical foul after she slapped the court with both hands.
“I did not say anything to the ref,” Fuehring said.
'I just wasn’t expecting it at all. I slapped the floor in frustration that they called it on me. I guess it was a fair call. I don’t know. I was upset at myself. I was kind of upset with the refs. It would have been called either way. She just called it on me. I just didn’t find it fair.”
It was an abrupt and jarring end to a wonderful season, a season highlighted by 36 wins in 39 games, nine of them against Top 25 opponents. Asia Durr led Louisville with 18 points, hitting three shots from distance. Credit Jazmine Jones with 15 and Dana Evans with nine off the bench.
Two Mississippi State players punished Louisville — McCowan with 21 points and 25 rebounds and all-American guard Victoria Vivians, who scored 25.
The Cardinals won the Atlantic Coast regular-season and tournament championships, twice defeating Notre Dame. But it will be the Irish and Mississippi State playing for the national championship Sunday at 6 p.m.
“Athletics is a wonderful thing,” Walz said. “It’s a great thing, boy, but there’s some ups and downs that kick you square in the ass and this is one of those.
“But you can’t let a moment define you. You’ve got to figure out what you are going to do to be able to get back up here next year and then make sure that doesn’t happen.”
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