Baylor didn't have a bad game.
The Bears scored 81 points against Louisville Sunday, shooting respectably from the field and the line. They controlled the boards. They forced 20 turnovers. They mounted an amazing comeback, worthy of any champion.
And they even got lucky. Jeff Walz drew an incredibly dumb technical foul with 2:01 left and his team up six. The Cardinals turned the ball over with 15 seconds left to set up two more clutch Odyssey Sims’ throws.
And yet … and yet.
Somehow, with Shoni Schimmel, Bria Smith and Sara Hammond on the bench, all with five fouls; somehow, running a CYO inbounds play; somehow, with a player who had only been on the court for 13 minutes getting the inbounds pass with nine seconds left, Louisville pulled off what pretty much everyone said was impossible for the Cardinals: They stunned the No. 1 Baylor Bears, 82-81, and left the defending national champions in shock on the court.
Of course, it took magic, like hitting 15 of their first 20 three-pointers (finished with 64% from beyond the arc). Of course, it took sorcery, like Schimmel tossing up a layup with her back to the basket, drawing contact and spinning in the shot. Of course, it simply couldn’t happen; but of course, it did.
Schimmel finished with 22 points, Antonita Slaughter with 21 and Smith with 13, but the two biggest shots were by Monique Reid, who rolled in her first free throw with 2.6 seconds left and swished the second to give Louisville the win. Reid was at the line because Brittney Griner – and who would have thought a Baylor story could go on this long before mentioning her? – made a critical defensive error by stepping up to challenge the onrushing Reid at midcourt, and letting Reid dribble right by her. Then, all Griner could do was foul her, and then all Baylor fans could do was watch their season go up in smoke.
Sims was the most devastated, and with good reason. She scored 29 points, nine in the last two minutes, and had all but willed the Bears to the victory. She and Jordan Madden rose to the occasion, but Griner did not. Her 14 points were quiet, her 10 rebounds unexceptional, and her demeanor was that of a player confounded by circumstance and uncertain of how to respond.
It is sad, in a way, that such a brilliant career should end in such ignominy, in such a gut-wrenching defeat that concluded with her defensive error, but that’s what sports’ narratives are made of: The painful, the improbable, the unlucky.
On the other side, though, there is joy in Louisville, regardless of what happens in the Elite Eight. The Cardinals have etched a place in women’s basketball history that won’t soon be forgotten – and it wasn’t about what Baylor didn’t do. It was about what they did.