Today is April 1, which is a bit ironic this morning, just hours after the mighty No. 1-seeded Baylor Bears were toppled by Louisville, 82-81. Though it might seem like an April Fool's joke, it's definitely no laughing matter in Waco.
Another bit of irony: The programing on ESPN following the game was a 30-for-30 film recounting the historic upset by N.C. State over Houston in the 1983 NCAA Men’s National Championship. In that game, coach Jim Valvano and the Wolfpack shocked the world when they defeated the Cougars, a team that boasted a dominant center/guard combination of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, a game that is widely recognized as one of the greatest upsets in the men’s game.
The biggest thing Jim Valvano did in 1983 was make his team believe that they could win the game. This is the very same tactic used by Jeff Walz: From the opening tip the he had the Cardinals believing they could win the game.
It started with Louisville point guard Shoni Schimmel, a bad-ass ball handler, who has Allen Iverson swag and isn’t afraid to attack. Early on she got in the face of Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims and talked smack, a key element in the mental edge of this game.
Even more important, “The Show,” Schimmel’s nickname since high school, had the game to go with the smack talk and it was contagious. Schimmel had a steal and assist to Antonia Slaughter who hit her first three-pointer just 2:39 into the game, a huge confidence booster for the post player who was also assigned to guard Griner. Two plays later Shimmel snagged another steal and dropped her first three of the game, part of her team-high 22 points, to put the Cardinal up, 18-7, less than five minutes in.
Then blow-by-blow, Louisville continued to dismantle Baylor, which seemed, conversely, to be in a state of disbelief. In the paint, Slaughter, Sara Hammond and anyone else in the vicinity physically got up in Griner’s grill, holding her scoreless from the field in the first half. Griner was obviously rattled; her discomfort seemed to infect the entire Baylor roster.
Slaughter hit a career-high seven three-pointers, shooting a ridiculous 77 percent from behind the arc for the game. Slaughter played all 40 minutes and finished the game with 21 points, more than double her 9.7 season average. It was a transcendent performance.
Hammond flexed her muscles when she hit a step-back three-pointer over Griner and then held up three fingers in celebration as she went back up the court, a Diana Taurasi-like taunt that was an obvious challenge to the Bears.
The most epic play was the drive to the basket by Schimmel, who dribbled behind her back through traffic, then went right at Griner and sank a no-look over-the-shoulder bank shot with her back to the basket -- and also drew the foul. It was the type of play that makes people believe in miracles, the play that will be drawn upon for inspiration for years to come, the type of play that will be talked about by anyone who has been a doubter of the women’s game -- and it may be the play that haunts Griner for the rest of her life.
Even when the Cardinals were on the ropes, when their three leading scorers had fouled out and Baylor had managed to come back from a 19-point deficit to briefly take the lead, that’s when Monique Reid calmly stepped to the line and sank two free-throws with 2.6 seconds in the game to seal the biggest upset in the history of the women’s game. It was her belief, and team-wide shared belief, that anything was possible.
In short, what Walz and the Cardinals did was summed up in the words of the late Jimmy V.: “Never give up, never give up.”
- Analysis: Cardinals use two-step approach to topple reigning champs
- Cardinals stun the Bears - Louisville was just better
- Louisville stuns Baylor, ends Griner's college career