Louisville Knocks off Second-Ranked Texas
This year, after a pair of wins in Bowling Green, Louisville advanced to it's fifth ever Sweet Sixteen to face off against Texas. The Cards had not ever won a set in this round, and Texas had not lost an NCAA Tournament match at home since 2006. Imagine everyone's surprise, then, when the Cards opened the match with a fairly controlling first set to take the lead at 1-0. Things got even more interesting in the second when Louisville clawed their way back from 7-2 and 11-4 deficits to slide past Texas at 19 points and win the second set. The Cards sat at 2-0, their first Sweet Sixteen set wins, and were one set away from handing the three-time champs a loss and advancing to their first Elite Eight.
Of course, it couldn't be so easy. In what was clearly an attempt by me to sabotage the team, I texted the Cardinal Couple group chat to say, "Biggest test is avoiding the reverse sweep." As a fan of Louisville athletics, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Cincinnati Reds, I've begun to be pessimistic when it comes to sports. No lead is safe. I was in the building for both the miracle loss to Virginia and last year's catastrophe against Duke. The only Seahawks game I've attended was one in which they gave up a 20 point lead against the Colts. Unfortunately, as the third set wore on, it looked as though my fears may come true. The hard hitting by the Cards seemed to fall off and Texas forgot how to commit errors. After hitting .381 and .393 in the first two sets, Louisville ran out a .118 in the third and a .147 in the fourth. Meanwhile, Texas turned .286 and .310 into .375 and .519. Louisville was flagging and it looked like they may be out of gas.
After being down 19-10 in the fourth set, Louisville looked like the thrill of the day might overcome them and Texas would settle in for their second come from behind victory of the tournament. However, the Cards didn't go down without a fight and managed to pull to within 5 points at 18-23 before ultimately losing the last two. While the end result is the same as just letting the Longhorns run away with the fourth set (going to a fifth set for winner-take-all), the burst of energy at the end of the fourth was enough to remind the Cards that they still had something left for this match. They came out and showed they had a will to win.
After trading the first few points of the fifth set, Louisville jumped out to an 8-3 lead, prompting a Texas challenge for the sake of having a free timeout. The Longhorns were called for being in the net, but Texas's challenge was not that they did not get into the net, but rather Louisville was in the net earlier in the rally. The replay showed no such thing, and play went on. However, Texas plan seemed to work a bit. That extra time-out allowed the Longhorns to get their feet under them and they quickly turned 8-3 into 12-10. Game on. Louisville battled for the next few points and found themselves on 14-11. Three chances at match point. It only took them two. After an error by Aiko Jones, only her fifth in the five set match, Anna Stevenson slammed home the final kill and the Cards' upset was complete.
Louisville's effort was undeniable in this one. The Cards were led by Jones and Stevenson who finished with 23 and 14 kills respectively, while having only eight combined errors and picking up eight combined block assists. Credit also needs to be given to Tori Dilfer, who was forced into 15 digs while still snagging 47 of the team's 55 assists. The match was truly a team effort, with no other player contributing double digit statistics for Louisville. The difference in this match was one that we probably wouldn't have guessed early in the year. After the struggles Louisville faced with service errors early on, who would think that the Cards would win multiple matches in the NCAA Tournament on clean serving. Such was the case yesterday, as Louisville committed only seven service errors compared to Texas's fifteen, a free eight point swing for the Cards. These errors, conveniently, came most often in the sets the Cards would ultimately win, and were not wasted on the sets in which the Cards struggled.
Louisville now advances to take on Minnesota in the Elite Eight after the Gophers took down Florida last night. The two teams did not play this season, but Minnesota beat up on the Cards two years ago in Wisconsin. Minnesota enters as the seven seed, and sit at 26-5 on the season. The Gophers are 3-1 in neutral court games but their two non-conference losses will be teams you may have heard of. Minnesota opened the season in Chapel Hill with a sweep of UNC before turning around and being swept themselves by Florida State the next day. The following weekend, Minnesota headed down to Austin where they were swept by Texas. The Gophers have officially played more matches in this building this season than Louisville, but we will see how (if at all) that impacts tonight's matchup. The Elite Eight match will get underway at 8 PM on ESPNU.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
Do you think we'll have anything to talk about today? Join Jeff, Paulie, and me as we hit the airwaves at 11 AM and discuss the big win for volleyball as well as a refocused basketball team preparing for the big rivalry game against UK. The Cardinal Couple Radio Hour is available on WCHQ at 100.9 FM, the WCHQ app, wchqfm.com, or on Facebook Live.
Listen live here: THE CARDINAL COUPLE RADIO HOUR
Listen live here: THE CARDINAL COUPLE RADIO HOUR
Until next time, Go Cards!