It was not going to happen.
The University of Louisville Cardinals were not going to conquer season-long top-rated South Carolina. Too may variables had to fall in place. It was not impossible obviously — that’s why they play the game — but chances were miniscule.
There are 351 schools that competed for the opportunity to advance to the Final Four in Minneapolis.
The four best who are clearly the best made it.
That group included — rightfully and justifiably so — U of L. Simply, for a whole passel of reasons, the Cardinals weren’t a match for the Gamecocks.
They would not have won had they had matched their best playing of the year. It would have taken that, then kicking it up a notch, Then another notch. Then get a lucky bounce, or three.
Instead, let’s be honest here, the Cards weren’t quite up to the moment. They played harried and nervous. They calmed for interludes, but never fully found their mojo. Stage fright seemed ever present.
My hope, and I have to assume every Cardinal fan’s hope, is that the squad returns to Louisville with heads held high. Proud of the showcase excellence of their 29-5 season.
Obviously, as one of the school’s four FF contestants, the ’21-’22 Cards are in the conversation as Best Ever.
Beyond that, one thing seems clear, at least to this acolytic observer.
This is perhaps the most galvanizing U of L basketball team, any gender, in the school’s storied hoops history. Ok, maybe, along with the ’80 champs.
The city of Louisville is the Most College Basketball Lovingest City in the land. It’s a fact. Look up the TV numbers through the years.
It has been a time of turmoil in this town. Socially. Culturally. As well as on the hardwood for school’s hoops representatives who are the male of the species. Scandal. Sanctions. Mediocrity.
This team vitalized the community. The city was pumped this past week.
With the team’s energy. Prowess. Never never quit attitude.
They proved themselves to be better than 347 teams that compete in the sport.
Good on them.
* * * * *
Yes, all that hyperbole aside, there were maybe — operative word: maybe — a couple of mighta been moments. Instances where if the situation had a different result, the Cards might have pulled it out.
OK, not really, to be frank. The Cardinals kept digging themselves holes. Their turnovers, many unforced, came at inopportune times. Indicating the team never settled in. The huge assist differential — Cards had 5 on 27 made FGs vs. 19 for victors — tells me U of L never found its rhythm offensively.
But, so we can have something to fantasize about had this or that worked out differently, here are the two moments.
The last play of the first half. Louisville had clawed its way back from a woeful start with a 12-0 run, but SC answered with four straight, and were up 32-28 with the ball as the clock was winding down.
POY Aliyah Boston had the ball in the paint. The Cardinals triple teamed her. Yet she was still able to shuffle a pass to teammate Brea Beal for a deuce.
Psychologically devastating, this guy observes.
The Cards opened the second half as discombobulated as the first, falling behind 15 midway through.
But, as is their wont, the nature of their grit, they weren’t daunted by the adversity, fighting back.
With :46 left in the quarter, they had pulled within 6 again to 48-54 on a Mykasa Robinson J.
A stop and score, and it’s Game On!. Perhaps.
Instead, Boston got an offensive board off a Destanni Henderson miss, plus a follow deuce.
Emily Engstler fouled her on the putback, her fourth. Boston netted the FT. 48-57.
* * * * *
Emily Engstler, Hailey Van Lith, Kianna Smith, Olivia Cochran, Chelsie Hall, Mykasa Robinson, Liz Dixon, Peyton Verhulst, Ahlana Smith, Norika Konno, Merissah Russel, Ramani Parker, Alexia Mobley, Sydni Schetnan.
Hold your heads high.
You have done yourselves proud.
You have done the city proud.
— c d kaplan