When Layshia Clarendon sank a game-tying rainbow 3 from the left wing with 1:51, it looked like California might have the composure to halt Louisville’s remarkable run in the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Then everything went wrong for the Golden Bears, who left the Final Four after one game as the Cardinals’ third consecutive upset victim.
“I’ll give it to Louisville, they outplayed us,” Cal guard Brittany Boyd said. “It seemed like they wanted it more.”
Antonita Slaughter scored 18 points on six 3-pointers and Louisville clawed back from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat California 64-57 in the national semifinals Sunday night in New Orleans.
Bria Smith scored 17 on 6-of-7 shooting for the Cardinals (29-8), who were a No. 5 seed and became the first team seeded worse than fourth to win a Final Four game.
The result creates an all-Big East Conference final in the league’s last season in its current form, with Louisville meeting Connecticut. 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 an 83-65 win over the Fighting Irish.
Layshia Clarendon scored 17 for Cal (32-4), which had won the Spokane Region as a second seed.
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 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.
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 Irish guard Skylar Diggins, who ended her last college game with 10 points.