OKLAHOMA CITY — Tennessee’s comeback was admirable. But it wasn’t memorable.
Comebacks that come up short never are.
The Lady Vols cut a 20-point Louisville lead to three with just more than four minutes to play in the Elite Eight of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Then, the Schimmel sisters took over for the Cardinals in a 86-78 victory that carried them into the Final Four.
All-Big East guard Shoni Schimmel short-circuited UT’s momentum with a drive to the basket. Her sister, Jude, followed with a 3-pointer before Shoni drove for another basket.
Suddenly, Louisville’s lead was up to 12, and the end of the Oklahoma City regional finale didn’t look much different from the beginning.
The beginning was all-Louisville, which inflicted way too much damage for Tennessee to overcome.
The Cardinals led by as many as 17 points in the first half and quickly extended their lead to 20 in the opening minutes of the second half.
By then, everyone had forgotten about the favor Louisville seemingly had provided the Lady Vols two nights earlier.
When the Cardinals knocked off No. 1 Baylor in the Sweet 16 on the same floor, UT didn’t have to worry about the most dominant team in the sport.
But Tennessee often looked as helpless against Louisville as it has against the Lady Bears for the past three seasons.
Never mind if Louisville didn’t flash its spectacular 3-point shooting (16-for-25 against Baylor). It looked superior against the Lady Vols from the outset.
This time, the Cardinals’ defense was more noteworthy than deadeye shooting. And it was evident right away against a bewildered UT offense, which repeatedly settled for off-the-mark 3-pointers as the game quickly went Louisville’s way.
The Cardinals led 41-26 at the break, and halftime only served to sharpen their 3-point shooting.
They hit a couple of 3s in the first two minutes of the second half as the lead grew to 20 points to the dismay of the small contingent of Tennessee fans.
The game’s one-sided course finally took a UT turn midway through the second half. Improved Tennessee shooting — especially from senior Taber Spani, who had 20 points — and shoddy ball-handling on Louisville’s part left the Lady Vols within striking distance.
But after Meighan Simmons hit a 3 to cut the lead to four with 3:02 left, the Schimmel sisters took back the momentum.
And the Lady Vols didn’t have another comeback in them.