Two of the nation’s best face off.
We have reached the portion of the NCAA Tournament where only the best have survived.
Generally, any of the Elite Eight winning it all would surprise few, and perhaps the least-regarded of the eight, Iowa, is playing as well as anyone, with the nation’s most efficient offensive player in Megan Gustafson.
And so it was that when Louisville took on UConn, though the Huskies prevailed, both of these are legit Final Four-level teams. But Katie Lou Samuelson made sure the Huskies reached the Final Four once again, 80-73.
More from NCAA
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, April 6: Stanford defeats Arizona in a tightly contested matchup to win the national title
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 30: UConn and Baylor deliver a classic battle of storied programs
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 26: Louisville and Texas A&M survive and advance
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 23: Highlights from the first round of the NCAA Tournament
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 16: Tournament bracket released
Let’s look at how it happened.
Katie Lou Samuelson found a healing elixir
Katie Lou Samuelson did not speak to the media after Friday night’s game, and Geno Auriemma didn’t hide his concern about how much he could expect from her. But Samuelson’s early three served as a notice that Sunday wouldn’t be the same as Friday night. She took some early bumps, Louisville determined to test her back, with Kylee Shook and Sam Fuehring knocking her around as she entered the lane. By the second quarter, she was hitting the corner three, forcing Louisville to account for her fully, leading to a wide-open follow-up by Megan Walker, a three to extend UConn’s lead to 33-23 and a Jeff Walz timeout.
By late in the second quarter, she was taking her dribble step, then regrouping and hitting the three, a next level of movement missing from her earlier tournament work. She had 11 by halftime.
And in the third quarter, after she picked up her third foul early on, Auriemma kept her in the game. She drained a pull-up three, nodding as she went back up the floor, and shortly thereafter, chasing a loose ball to the sideline, gave a low five to a radio broadcaster. She was having fun out there, and it was desperately needed fun for the Huskies.
“Yeah, she made some shots today that only really special players make at this particular time,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said following the game. “This is when players separate themselves in these games.”
She went to the bench with four fouls, 55-45, 2:57 to go in the third. That’s when Louisville surged, and it was no coincidence. Nor was it coincidence that in the final moments, Samuelson was the one with the ball, shooting free throws. She finished with 29 points.
Asia Durr started slowly
Asia Durr went scoreless in first, slowed by a variety of defenders, before getting on the board midrange pullup over Samuelson early in the second. This wasn’t necessarily fatal to Louisville — we know because Durr went scoreless in the first quarter earlier this season, when Louisville beat Uconn, 78-69. Walz rested her to end first, and she came out aggressive in the second quarter. By the 6:33 mark in the second, she was getting to the basket and shooting layups backwards over her head, drawing the foul and just missing the three-point play. But she shot just 1-for-10 in the first half.
Mainly, it was Crystal Dangerfield defending second quarter, a deeply underrated defender — 0.632 points per possession allowed, per Synergy, good for 52nd of 712 Division I players with at least 200 possessions — locking down Durr. Notably, Louisville called Jazmine Jones’ number on the first play of the second half, then Bionca Dunham’s. It’s a sign of both the Cardinals’ depth, and Jeff Walz searching for offensive answers.
“You just stay patient,” Durr said following the game. “It’s not the first time I went 1 for 10 throughout the whole year. I’ve had bad nights too. It’s not the first time it took place. I just tried to find my teammates out there on the court, but I feel like I should have been more patient.”
Durr, out of the fourth quarter media timeout, took the first shot. And the second. She is an elite player with the sense of the moment, and we’ll be covering her in the WNBA for a long, long time. She finished 6-for-9 in the second half from the field, and nearly brought Louisville all the way back.
“This is Connecticut. This is what we do.”
After Friday night’s game, Geno Auriemma said his team remembered something vital in the closing minutes of the 69-61 win over UCLA.
“I think they remembered that we’re UConn, and this is what we do,” he said that night. “And it doesn’t always work, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. But you know, there’s just enough times with four, five minutes left in the game. Our kids need to be reminded sometimes, we’re still UConn, you know. We’re not going to die easily. It’s not going to be that easy to get rid of us.”
So it played out, following that final media timeout. Samuelson hit a three, then another, fouled so hard it turned her 180 degrees. UConn got the board after she missed that free throw, too. Louisville countered, of course, cutting it to two with 26.6 left. Two elite teams, slugging it out until the very end. Samuelson countered with a pair of free throws to stem the tide.
“I think this team has done a lot behind closed doors to get to this point, and we’ve been through so much ups and downs, trying to figure out how to work with certain people,” Samuelson said. “You know, sometimes we have a lot of mismatches and things like that. So this team has really fought our way to get to this point. We experienced a lot of ups and downs this year playing-wise, close games and close losses. And for us, to get to this point to win and to win the way we have and the way we’re playing right now as a team, we’re just so happy with where we are, and it’s just special. This team is special. And every single one of these girls are my best friends, and I’m glad that I get this chance to go to the Final Four one last time.”
This is Connecticut. This is what they do.
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