The play was run to perfection. Well, nearly.
Down 76-73 with 3.5 seconds left, Louisville coach Jeff Walz dialed up Bryce Drew's game-winning play from Valparaiso. Sara Hammond threw a three-quarter court pass to Asia Taylor near the top of the key. Taylor spun and passed it to Shoni Schimmel as she sped around the bend of the three-point line. Schimmel squared her shoulders and fired…
"I thought it was in. Are you kidding me? It's Shoni Schimmel, of course I thought it was in," Hammond said.
"It looked good for a while there," Taylor said. "It had good arc and it seemed like it took 20 seconds to come back down."
Schimmel's shot didn't fall, Louisville's valiant comeback didn't succeed and Maryland sprinted to the other end of the court in wild celebration.
"I was actually kind of open for me to take that shot," Schimmel said. "We perfected it, the ball just didn't go in. The one that didn't go in was the last shot I wanted. But it just didn't fall. Nothing much you can do about that."
Schimmel, Louisville's All-American, was 5 of 11 from three point-range and scored 31 points. She and her teammates fought and scrapped from a 12-point deficit with 2:03 left to 75-73 with 5 seconds left after her fifth three.
But Shoni's five threes and 31 points, eight of which came in the final 18 seconds, and clutch late-game free throws by Tia Gibbs and Antonita Slaughter weren't enough. Maryland (28-6) advanced to its fourth Final Four with a 76-73 win Tuesday night in the KFC Yum! Center. Louisville fell to 33-5, ending one win short of the program's third Final Four after making the NCAA title game last season.
How close was it? Schimmel's teammates weren't the only ones who thought the final shot might be going in.
"She had hit back-to-back, crazy, wild clutch shots," Maryland star Lexie Brown said. "So for her to, it was a great look, and all I could do was pray that it didn't go in."
With five ties and 12 lead changes, the game was an exciting back-and-forth battle. Louisville led by 41-34 in the second half, but the Cardinals suffered a brutal stretch without a basket for more than 7 minutes.
"Unfortunately, for us it wasn't our night," Walz said.
During that dry spell, Maryland turned Louisville's seven point lead into a 10 point deficit. Schimmel missed seven straight shots during that stretch.
"It just felt like there was a lid on the basket. It really did," senior Tia Gibbs said. "We just couldn't get anything to fall, but we had to keep battling."
Maryland went ahead to stay at the 13:47 mark, and the Terrapins built a commanding 66-54 lead as the clock continued to tick away past the three minute mark.
"I mean, we weren't just going to give them the win," Schimmel said. "We can't do that. We aren't just going to roll over. We had to keep fighting because that is what this team does."
Maryland led by 12 with just over two minutes left, but a layup by Schimmel and a pair of free throws by Asia Taylor cut the lead to 66-58 with 1:43 left. After a turnover by Brown, a layup by Taylor cut Maryland's lead to 66-60 with 1:20 left.
Louisville stole the ball in Maryland's backcourt and Schimmel launched a three that just rimmed out with 1:11 left. Louisville fouled Brown on the next possession, and she calmly hit two free throws.
A jumper by Gibbs rimmed out and Maryland All-American Alyssa Thomas was fouled on the rebound. She hit both free throws to put Maryland up 70-60 with 56.8 seconds left.
A pair of free throws by senior Antonita Slaughter and a three by Schimmel cut the margin to 70-65 with 29.2 seconds left. A pair of free throws by Maryland's Laurin Mincy, a missed driving shot by Jude Schimmel and a 1-2 trip to the line by Brown put Maryland up 73-65.
Shoni Schimmel hit a three with 17 seconds left to cut Maryland's lead back to five, 73-68, and Louisville stole the inbounds play. Gibbs was fouled on a shot under the basket and she hit both free throws to cut the margin to 73-70 with 14.5 seconds left.
Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough got away with a walk as she was fouled with 9.2 seconds left. She hit both free throws to put Maryland up 75-70, but Louisville quickly inbounded the ball and Shoni Schimmel hit another three.
The brutal non-call on the walk was one of many questionable calls by officials for both sides.
Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins may have described it best, "Louisville missed enough layups to lose three games, but that was a comeback for the ages and it's a shame a ref error affected anything. Total travel. Should have been a turnover. Refs blew this big time."
On ESPN's broadcast Doris Burke said "that's a big-time miss" after seeing the replay of the travel.
Louisville fouled Thomas with 3.5 seconds left, and she hit 1-2 from the line to put Maryland up 76-73. Louisville was out of timeouts, but Maryland called time to set up its defense.
That's when Walz's Valparaiso-inspired play nearly worked.
"It's no question our goal was to get to Nashville, and unfortunately we fell a game short," Walz said.
Shoni Schimmel's 31 points led all scorers. She also had five rebounds, five steals, four assists and seven turnovers. Slaughter had 16 points and five rebounds. Taylor had 12 points and eight rebounds. Thomas paced Maryland with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Brown had 20 and Katie Rutan had 12 points hitting 4 of 6 threes.