OKLAHOMA CITY — As Brittney Griner knelt beside her, the bridge of her nose pinched between her fingers, Odyssey Sims collapsed with her jersey pulled over her face. Louisville players spilled out onto the court behind the two players that had done so much to prop up the Lady Bears’ mammoth run this season.
Baylor’s fifth straight trip to the Sweet 16 was undoubtedly one of its most painful. The Lady Bears are going home.
Louisville’s Monique Reid hit a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds left, and Sims’ last-second half-court heave missed the mark as the No. 5 Cardinals stunned top overall seed Baylor, 82-81, in the third round of the NCAA tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It wasn’t supposed to end so early for the top-ranked, top-seeded Lady Bears, who’d won their first two tournament games by an average of 40 points. Now, Baylor’s search for a second consecutive national title is over.
“This is as hard of a loss as we’ve ever had to deal with,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “The locker room was pretty emotional.”
Baylor led for just 6.5 total seconds Sunday, trailing by as many as 19 with 10 minutes to go in the second half as Louisville hit big three after big three. The Cardinals were an incredible 16-for-25 from deep, tying an NCAA tournament record for made threes in a game. Indeed, Louisville bossed Baylor for much of the night. The Lady Bears trailed by double digits for nearly the entire game.
But led by Sims’ forceful play — the junior point guard had a game-high 29 points, six steals and five assists — Baylor pulled itself back in with a 24-6 run spanning the final six minutes. Despite the fact that star Brittney Griner was hampered by Louisville’s swarming defense, that helped turn what was once a 60-41 Louisville lead into an 81-80 Baylor lead with less than 10 seconds to go.
The final, frantic moments unfolded in halting bursts between fouls that pulled the advantage one way and then another in agonizing emotional tweaks. Sims dropped in a three with 35 seconds left to pull Baylor within 80-79, and Baylor missed a chance to
take the lead when Jordan Madden was called for a controversial charge on its next possession.
“We already have the missed shot,” Mulkey said. “She calls an offensive foul on Madden right there. Well, why so late? Odyssey Sims had the rebound in her hand.”
But Baylor was granted a reprieve when Jude Schimmel spilled the ensuing inbounds pass. Brittney Griner scooped up the loose ball and fed Sims, who slashed in and drew a shooting foul with 9.1 seconds left. She coolly hit both shots, neither of which even drew rim, to give Baylor its first lead of the night at 81-80.
“I did all I can for my team,” Sims said. “I never stopped fighting. I wasn’t hitting all my shots, but I never stopped shooting. I made some big shots down the stretch. I made all my free throws. We were right there. Just couldn’t finish it.”
The lead lasted just seconds. With the entire crowd of 9,162 on its feet, Reid took the inbounds pass and cleaved into open space, slashing into the lane and drawing a shooting foul on Griner under the basket. Reid hit both shots, the first of which lingered agonizingly on the rim, and Louisville stormed the court seconds later when Sims couldn’t beat the buzzer with her shot.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Mulkey said. “It’s hard to lose when it’s your last game, but it’s even harder the way that game ended. It makes it a little tougher.”
Was the final play on Reid a foul? Griner didn’t think so.
“I feel like I got all ball,” Griner said. “It wasn’t my call.”
The game was undeniably physical. Louisville’s Sara Hammond, Shoni Schimmel and Bria Smith all fouled out, and the Cardinals were whistled for 24 total fouls. Part of the strategy was to wipe out Griner’s effectiveness inside, and Louisville harried the All-American center with three and sometimes four players sagging toward her in the paint.
Griner had 14 points and 10 rebounds, but she only took 10 shots and didn’t score her first field goal until five minutes had passed in the second half. By that time, Louisville had a 51-37 lead.
“I thought the game started out way too physical,” Mulkey said. “I thought all three of (the officials), if they go past this round of officiating, it’ll be sad for the game.”
Louisville leading scorer Shoni Schimmel fouled out with 4:21 left in the game, but she helped lead Louisville’s party from deep. She had a team-high 22 points and was 5-for-8 from three, one of which came about 25 feet from the rim to give Louisville a 42-32 lead after half. Antonita Slaughter was even deadlier. She was 7-for-9 from three and had 21 big points.
“The post player that Griner is guarding, she hits a couple (threes),” Mulkey said. “That’s when you know it’s going to be a long day.”
As far as the Cardinals were concerned, the first half was nearly perfect. Louisville’s intricate defensive game plan all but shaded Griner out of the game, and Baylor never looked particularly comfortable. Griner came in averaging 33 points in her last six games, but Louisville held her without a point from the floor over the first 25 minutes.
At half, Griner had just four points, all off free throws, and was 0-for-4 from the floor. Further, the Lady Bears shot just 39 percent while Louisville was an astonishing 8-for-11 from three in the opening frame.
During one stretch in the first half, the Cardinals scored threes on six possessions in a row, the last of which put Louisville up, 24-14. A 12-2 run late in the first half then set up Louisville with a 39-25 lead, one of the largest leads any team has had on Baylor all year. The Cardinals took a 39-29 lead into the locker room — it was just the third time all season Baylor had trailed at half — but their incredible night from deep was only warming up.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bears couldn’t find any consistent offensive traction. At one point, Baylor cut the Louisville lead to 25-21 on a pair of Griner free throws, but Louisville kept Baylor from finding Griner and soon pushed the lead back out to 35-23.
“I think I could smell what toothpaste (Griner) used,” Slaughter said. “I was in her face all the time with my hands up. That was the game plan the whole time.”
The Cardinals did their best to keep expanding the lead in a fast and loose second half. Each of Louisville’s first seven field goals in the second half were threes, and they’d pushed the lead to 60-41 at its widest on a deep ball from Jude Schimmel. As Baylor clawed back, the game got increasingly heated. At one point, Shoni Schimmel and Sims were tagged for matching technicals for getting in each other’s face, while Louisville coach Jeff Walz got a technical for sitting on the scorer’s table with two minutes to go. That allowed Sims to shoot a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 78-74 and heighten the drama considerably for a stretch run that crushed the Lady Bears.
“I thought the season was a waste, personally,” forward Destiny Williams said. “We had one ultimate goal, and we didn’t reach it.”