All bets had been placed on Baylor University to once again take the title back home. It was almost inevitable with players like Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims leading the team. But who’s to say Louisville won’t showcase the same quality of talent as well?
As the ball was thrown in the air, I got the feeling that this game was going to be far more intense than people and statistics had led on.
Within the first minute, Louisville made it extremely clear that they were not leaving this court without a fight. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the Cardinals set the pace of game instead of Baylor. Brittney Griner, who I waited patiently on to dominate the boards, could not get ahold of position or the ball. The Cardinals are known for their chaotic defense and pulled a restructured version of a two-three zone defense. Even so, Brittney was covered by two people at all times. This defensive tactic was a brilliant move for Coach Walz to make. “It is some kind of a scramble and no, our girls don’t even know what defense they are running. We wont reveal our secrets.” If the girls dont know what defense they are running, how is this chaos driven team playing so well?
I soon found out minutes into the game that chaos or not, Louisville was here to play. Baylor, though still scoring and making plays, were in a state of shock. I observed confused expressions, scatter brained basketball, and ALOT of brutal playing.
No one could accuse either team of not playing aggressively.
With 2:41 left in the first half, Louisville was up 35-25. You could see the look on Mulkey’s face she was not happy. Even Kevin Durant was on the edge of his seat wondering what was going to happen next. (Yes, Kevin Durant among other Thunder plays were in attendance.)
As the second half began, a new and improved Baylor exploded out of the locker room with energy and drive. Coach Mulkey must have given some speech at half time to get the girls back on track. 3 minutes out and the aggression was already dangerously high. The fans were screaming dirty play through the entire game, but until now I wasn’t sure it was dirty just physical. As the game continued on, the Cardinals demanded momentum, knocking down 4 three-pointers in a row. The amount of talent coming from these teams is extraordinary. Where is Griner when you need her to play?
At 15:19 in the second half, the score was 51-37 Louisville. Griner with only 9 points in the game cease to have any presence. Timeout Baylor…play a minute…timeout Louisville. Apparently both coaches couldn’t figure out what move to make next.
The environment inside Chesapeake Arena was hostile. One side of the stands were cheering and chanting while the other side was cursing and screaming. I was sure a fight was going to break out.
3-pointers had been the epitome of this Cardinal dominated game with 16 outrageous 3-pointers. Nevertheless, Baylor refused to give in. They kept forcing turnovers and driving to the basket. At 9:50 remaining, Louisville still led the game 64-48 right after Shoni Schimmel drove up and under the basket drawing a foul and sinking a trick shot. Durant must have been proud to see a ghetto version of his up and under play.
With the intensity still rising, it was no surprise when a double technical was called between Odyssey Sims and Shoni Schimmel. It was brutal in contact and deadly in speech. The fouls continued back and forth between teams. Most of the starters had at least two fouls each. By the time officials decided to make a call, it was pointless in lesson due to the other 20 fouls gone uncalled for.
As if the game could not get any more blood boiling, a physical play between several Baylor players and Shoni Schimmel caused a reckless foul call. However, no one knew who it was on until the official pointed out Schimmel. A surprised coach Walz stumbled to the officials table unsure of what had just happened. This was Schimmel’s fifth and foul and with Baylor started to riot back, the Cardinals were anything but confident now.
3:41 remaining. 76-70. What was once a 20 point game was now drizzled down to six points away from taking the lead. I was starting to smell a comeback from the defending champions. An uneasy Louisville was struggling to get control and sent coach Walz into a frenzy. This fit led to yet another technical foul. Thanks coach.
The clock still winding down at 1:24, Baylor went down by four points. Back and forth the ball went with one defensive rebound after another.
1:00 left and up goes a brilliant 3-point shot on behalf of Baylor. They were within one. Though I was a neutral staff member sitting in my court side seat taking notes, I couldn’t help but jump around with excitement as this game kept getting better and better. 31.6 seconds and Baylor fouls Monique Reid; a necessary foul to stop the clock. Reid missed the free throw shot. The off the board ball landing directly into the hands of a Sims.
Baylor roared down the court to shoot, score, and celebrate only to hear the official blow his whistle and call a charge. WOW! I am not so sure that was a charge but i’m not an official. Baylor’s coach was out of her clothes mad. I mean literally out of her clothes. Coach Mulkey ripped off her jacket and flung it every which way she could.
16.7 seconds. It is getting lava hot in the arena with excitement and nerves. The Cardinals throw in the ball. Fans are on their feet. Without warning the ball is picked off by Sims. Sims takes off down the court to shoot and immediately gets fouled. Sims goes to the line and makes a beautiful free throw. TIE GAME. Sims puts up the second shot and its good as well. Baylor goes up by one. I could not believe how exciting this game has been.
6.5 seconds are left on the clock. Both teams are fired up. Louisville takes the ball down the court. A full court press from Baylor makes it a little difficult for the ball handlers to get to the basket. Reid receives a pass and goes up for a shot and is fouled by Griner. Reid goes to the line to shoot two. The first is up and good. Tie game once more. She shoots the second and sinks it in. Louisville goes up by one point.
With seconds left, Baylor throws the ball in, makes it to half court and chunks up a long shot. The ball collides with the back board and falls to the ground.
The underdog Louisville won the game 82-81. An intense game full of accomplishments and mistakes left the defending champs with nothing but memories from the year before.