"We just needed to make that 3 to get the momentum, and it just didn't go down," said coach Holly Warlick, the longtime assistant in her first year replacing Pat Summitt.
Shoni Schimmel had a pair of driving layups and Jude Schimmel hit a 3-pointer and set up Slaughter for a reverse layup in a 9-3 burst for Louisville. Even when Simmons, who started out 1 for 22 in the two games in Oklahoma City, hit three late 3-pointers, it wasn't enough for Tennessee.
The Cardinals shouted "Louisville!" at the logo in the middle of the court in celebration. Spani, a senior, dropped to her knees in tears at the final buzzer.
"Any Tennessee team that doesn't make a Final Four doesn't reach expectations. That's the amazing and the great thing about this program is no matter what the transition was, no matter what it looked like, no matter what excuse you might put it out or if you're a young team or not, the bar is the Final Four. And I think that's what makes this program special," Spani said.
"To come short of that is disappointing."
Louisville came out firing from long range again and connected four times in first seven attempts while building an early 21-11 advantage. Then, it was a sticky 1-3-1 zone defense that propelled Louisville on an 8-0 run, keeping the Lady Vols scoreless for a 5½ minute stretch, to expand the lead out to 31-14 after Sherrone Vails' putback with 3:51 to go until halftime.
Just like in the previous round, when a 19-point lead disappeared before Monique Reid's winning free throws in the final seconds, the Cardinals had to hang on for dear life at the end.
"With both games this week, nobody thought we could win. There's not anybody in here that still actually believes that we beat Baylor," Walz said. "I told our players after that that we have nothing to lose at all, so who cares?"
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