Monday, February 19, 2018
Sports

Louisville plays up underdog role

NEW ORLEANS — Louisville has relished being the underdog, so much so that coach Jeff Walz doesn't want to hear about how it has that team-of-destiny air entering the Final Four.

Yet, is there any other way to see it? Louisville beat Brittney Griner and defending national champ Baylor, then Tennessee, the most storied program in the sport. Surely it can't be the underdog against Final Four newcomer California in tonight's semifinals.

"No one expects us to win now," Walz said. "I know we won two games, but we're seeded fifth. And if they expected us to win, we'd be seeded second or third. (Cal) is a team that's 32-3, that beat Stanford. They're a great basketball team, so we're going to have to figure out a way."

And though destiny might be on Louisville's side, history is not. No team seeded lower than fourth has won a semifinal.

The Bears were the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Region and did not face their Pac-12 rival, top-seeded Stanford. Georgia took care of the Cardinal in the region semifinal.

Neither Cal nor Louisville was widely expected to make it this far, although President Barack Obama saw something in the Bears when he placed them in his Final Four bracket. Now Louisville or Cal will have a spot in the final.

"I definitely agree that a lot has to go right in order to get to this point," Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "But I also think there's a huge impact that our players have in making things go right. The teams that were in front of us at each stage were really formidable."

In the other semifinal, UConn faces a Notre Dame team to which it has lost in seven of their past eight matchups, including last season's semifinals.

"We're in a familiar place, fortunately," said Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, a seven-time national champion whose team once beat the Irish 12 consecutive times. "And we have a familiar opponent, unfortunately. I do believe there's a mental part to it, to a certain extent.

"When we beat them 12 in a row, I'm sure that wasn't all physical. When you beat a team a number of times, you feel a certain confidence. And when you've been on the other end of that, there is more cause for concern."

Notre Dame has won all three previous matchups this season. But the wins were by one, two and nine points, the nine-point game being in triple overtime.

"We've done some really great things at the end of the game to win … whether it was a defensive stop or a huge basket or something good," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "We certainly would hope that karma continues."

Honors: Griner was named the Associated Press player of the year. Only Griner, LSU's Seimone Augustus and Tennessee's Chamique Holds­claw have won the award two straight seasons. Griner, who averaged 23.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 blocks, earned 37 of 40 votes from a media panel. McGraw was named coach of the year. McGraw, whose team has won 30 in a row, received 24 votes.

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