Update: South Carolina beat UConn to win his second national championship.
WICHITA, Kan. – Olivia Cochran sat for most of the first half with foul problems. He reacted in disbelief when what he thought was a clean block was whistled as a foul, and he played the last five minutes of Monday night’s game knowing that a mistake would definitely eliminate him.
But when Louisville, the No. 1 seed, needed it most, when his offensive stars could not be released, Cochran, the team’s defensive anchor, broke a stubborn Michigan defense on three sides in the last three. minutes to send the Cardinals to the Final Four. , defeating Michigan, No. 3 seed, 62-50.
Louisville knew the restart would not be as easy as the team game in December, when the Cardinals eliminated Michigan by 22 points at home. They knew Michigan would cope better with pressure defense and that they would have to win a dog fight.
“We can look at it for the things that went well for us, but it’s March,” Louisville star guard Hailey Van Lith said before the game.
In fact, it’s March, and what took place at the Intrust Bank Arena on Monday night in front of a largely pro-Louisville crowd was a dogfight, one that was played much closer this time, but that ended in a Louisville victory.
The Cardinals were led by Van Lith, who scored 22 points, and Chelsie Hall, who tied the season high with 15 points, mostly from behind the 3-point arc.
Michigan had the ball under just 2 points, 52-50, when Laila Phelia committed an offensive foul. “52-50, with the ball,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I’m going to have nightmares about this for the next eight months until we play again.”
The next possessions would be decisive. Emily Engstler of Louisville found Cochran just outside the box. Michigan thought that was about to make a 3-point play, but Naz Hillmon was called up for an offensive foul on Cochran when his tray went over the edge. Cochran scored a good ball to the next possession after beating the press, and the Louisville defense closed Michigan the rest of the way.
“That look was there for the entire fourth quarter and we couldn’t deliver it,” Van Lith said of Cochran’s bands. “We were in a hurry and letting his pressure speed us up.”
Louisville led by 9 points in the third quarter, but every time the Cardinals came close to eliminating the game, Michigan found a way to get closer, usually to the free-throw line. Michigan fired 11 more free throws than Louisville.
Monday night’s game was between teams that, at least on paper, had many similarities. Both teams try to cause chaos with intense pressure. In Hillmon and Engstler, both are led by top-tier strikers who could be selected in the first round of next month’s WNBA draft. And they both have coaches, Barnes Arico and Jeff Walz, who make it clear that they are tough on their players and tell them compelling truths, but they also seem to be loved by their players.
Players and coaches of both teams tried to downplay the importance of that December game, but Barnes Arico acknowledged that Louisville’s defensive intensity was probably the highest his team had faced all season. During the four months since that game, Michigan has often practiced how to fight the double and triple teams commanded by Hillmon, an All-American last season.
“This has become a staple in our training plan because they really went for it and tried to get it out of the game plan,” Barnes Arico said.
Louisville pressure again shook Michigan, as each Wolverines starter turned the ball at least three times. But Michigan didn’t melt like it did in Louisville in December. Hillmon lived on the free-kick line, scoring 10 of his 18 points, and Phelia and Maddie Nolan took part of the offensive load on the perimeter. Michigan also overtook Louisville, though it helped Cochran play just 20 minutes.
Engstler was as advertised in Louisville’s defense, shooting down 16 rebounds and catching six steals while leading the press. “It seemed like every big play they made, she was involved,” Barnes Arico said. But Engstler struggled offensively, throwing 1 of 9 from the field and 0 of 5 from the 3-point range, as he settled primarily for outside jumpers.
Louisville was the last team to get its ticket to the Final Four, where it will face South Carolina, the No. 1 seed, who has only lost twice this season and just beat Creighton by 30. Stanford play in Connecticut. The national semifinals will be played Friday in Minneapolis. The final is Sunday.
The appearance of the Louisville Final Four is the first since 2018, when he lost to eventual runner-up Mississippi State. Michigan’s appearance in the round of 16 was the first time the team had advanced so far.