By Brett Martel
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Shoni Schimmel smiled and hugged her teammates, almost as if she was celebrating, when the clock hit zero and Louisville had fallen hard to Connecticut in the women's NCAA championship game.
Perhaps she was practicing for next spring, when Louisville is bound to be back in position to make another tournament run — albeit a less surprising one.
"We did make this run at the end of the tournament and it's just going to continue into next season," Schimmel said. "We're just going to get better and grow as a team and learn from this."
UConn's 93-60 win Tuesday night was the biggest blowout in a women's NCAA title game, yet the Cardinals said they would not let it overshadow their memorable string of upsets that got them as far as they went.
"The run that we went on I think is remarkable and it's something I'll always remember," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "I told our players, 'When we walk out of this place, we're walking out with our heads high.'"
Louisville's run captivated fans in no small part because of moments of creative brilliance by sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel that evoked "rez ball," the free-wheeling style of play they developed growing up on a Native American reservation in Oregon.
Against UConn, however, their repertoire of flashy passes and shots produced about as many misses and turnovers as points. The familiarity of playing a team from the same conference probably hurt more than it helped, Shoni Schimmel said.
"Playing in the Big East, you kind of know each other," she said. "They knew what to do to stop us, and that was kind of limit my touches and not really let me shoot."
With their eighth national title — tying Tennessee for most all time — the Huskies and coach Geno Auriemma prevented Louisville from joining UConn (2004) as the only school to win national titles in both men's and women's basketball in the same season.
Louisville men's coach Rick Pitino made the trip to watch the game, one day after his team won the NCAA championship against Michigan, and gave the women's team a pre-game pep talk before sitting a few rows behind them. There was a buzz back home in the Bluegrass State as fans wondered if there would be two titles to celebrate instead of just one.
After all, the women had knocked off Baylor in the biggest upset in tournament history, then added Tennessee to their list of victims before becoming the first No. 5 seed to reach the title game by beating Cal.
"I don't think anybody can argue that unfortunately we just came up one game short," Walz said. "But I'm proud of my players."
Even Auriemma had said he wondered going into the game if UConn was playing not just against Louisville, but some sort of karma.
"The only team that was better than us the last month was the University of Louisville," Auriemma said. "They did something I haven't seen done in the NCAA tournament."
Louisville looked ready to give UConn a tough game during the opening eight minutes, but the Huskies took control with a 19-0 first-half run and never looked back, stifling the Cardinals at every turn. Sara Hammond was the only Louisville player to reach double figures with 15 points. Shoni Schimmel finished with nine.
Antonita Slaughter struggled to hit 3-pointers, hitting only one after making six in the NCAA semifinal against California. Bria Smith's dribble drives were met with a stout wall of defenders. She hit the floor hard several times, and wound up with seven points, one game after scoring 17.
"You have to give credit to UConn," Jude Schimmel said. "It was like they were us in our Baylor game. Everything went right for them."
Walz had said leading up to the game that his team would have to play its best game of the season, even better than it did when knocking off defending champion Baylor and its 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner.
Instead, Shoni Schimmel missed her first six shots and Jude Schimmel's third foul came with 9:21 still to go in the first half.
Shoni Schimmel, Louisville's leading scorer averaging better than 14 points, finished 3-of-15 shooting for nine points. Jude Schimmel scored seven.
Defensively, Louisville seemed powerless to stop Breanna Stewart, who scored 23.
"She's a tremendous athlete. She's a freak of nature," Hammond said of Stewart. "She's got a wing span that's close to Brittney Griner's, I think, and she's a hard matchup. She can shoot the 3, she can take you off the dribble or post you up, so she did a tremendous job."
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 18 for UConn, including five 3s. Kelly Faris made four 3s and scored 16 points.
"They just made big shot after big shot," Walz said.
Yet Walz will have many of his players back. Shoni Schimmel and Slaughter are juniors, Hammond, Smith and Jude Schimmel just sophomores.
"We're not going to hang our heads. We did the unthinkable," Slaughter said. "So we're just going to work through the summer and just come back next year and get better."