UNCASVILLE – Louisville couldn't take advantage of its first title-deciding matchup with UConn, but now the Cardinals have a second chance.
However, before the No. 2 seed Cardinals could advance, they needed a game-winning basket from Shoni Schimmel to knock off No. 3 South Florida 60-56 in the American Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament semifinals Sunday.
With the score tied 56-56, Schimmel pushed the ball up the court and hit a mid-range jumper to give Louisville (30-3) the lead with six seconds remaining.
"I saw a few people behind me and just kind of went with the ball," Schimmel said. "I saw we had numbers in transition, the pull-up was there and nobody picked me up, so I shot it."
A steal on the ensuing inbounds pass by her sister, Jude Schimmel, and the two free-throws that followed finished off a series of comebacks and sealed the victory.
"We're all playing to survive and play the next day," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "So we knew South Florida was going to come out and compete. I don't think we matched their intensity to start the game."
Led by five quick points by Courtney Williams, the Bulls (19-12) grabbed an early 8-2 lead and maintained that edge for most of the first half, stretching it to as many as 10 points.
That's when Shoni Schimmel got going and turned things around. The senior guard hit three three-pointers in a 2:23-span late in the half that tied the game.
The Cardinals used that momentum to carry a four-point lead into the locker room, but were unable to sustain it after the break.
Fueled by Inga Orekhova, who scored 10 of her 19 points in the second half, USF was able to reclaim the lead and push its lead to six points before slowly seeing it whittled away.
"We didn't come out to start the second half with that same intensity," Walz said. "We had some breakdowns, turned the basketball over and that led for some runs for them."
But the final run of the game belonged to the Cardinals, and their 6-2 spurt over the final 2:33 proved enough to push them past the Bulls.
Next up for Louisville is the title game showdown with top-seeded UConn. The Huskies won both regular season contests by a combined 37 points, including a 20-point victory March 3 that sealed their regular season conference championship.
"We know in order to beat them we have to play a great game at the defensive end of the floor," Walz said, "because they score the ball so well. Then we're going to have to figure out a way to score. I personally think the only chance you've got to beat them, you've got to put 70 on the board yourself."
The tournament final is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday. The Cardinals are looking for their first conference title since taking the Conference USA regular season crown in 2001.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun