OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Tennessee's Lady Vols nearly rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half, but came up short as their season came to an end on Tuesday night in a 86-78 loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The fifth-seeded Cardinals (28-8) advance to the Final Four, where they will play California on Sunday night at 6:30 p.m., in New Orleans. No. 2 seed Tennessee finished with a 27-8 record in Holly Warlick's first season as coach.
"Well, you gotta get stops and rebounding," Warlick said in explaining why the Lady Vols fell behind by such a large margin. "We didn't those especially the first half. You can't give up ten offensive rebounds the first half, and we just dug ourselves in a hole. So we started battling a little too late."
The Lady Vols were led by the senior duo of Taber Spani (20 points) and Kamiko Williams (12 points) for the third game in a row in the postseason. The pair, who played their final game in Orange & White combined for 32 points with all of Spani's points coming in the second half. Meighan Simmons scored all of her 12 points in the second half during UT's rally.Bashaara Graves and Isabelle Harrison each added 11 points.
Louisville was led by Shoni Schimmel, who scored 24 points. Sister Jude Schimmel scored 15 to give the duo 39 points. Bria Smith (13), Monique Reid (12) and Sara Hammond (11) also scored in double-figures for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals' 86 points were the most since beating Tennessee State, 88-25 on Dec. 31, 2012.
Down by as many as 20 points early in the second half, Tennessee cut the deficit to three points with 4:28 left in regulation, but the Lady Vols were unable to finish what would have been their largest comeback since 2009.
A short jumper by Harrison and free throw by Graves brought the Lady Vols to within 11 at 57-46 with 12 minutes left in the second half.
A pair of free throws by Graves with 9:04 brought UT within nine points at 62-53. It was the first time, the Lady Vols were within single-digits since 7:52 was left in the first half.
Simmons' first field goal -- after seven misses -- came on a 3-pointer with 8:28 left in regulation to cut it to 64-56. Spani's jumper brought UT within six. 64-58. Spani's free throws inched the Lady Vols to within five points at 66-61 with six minutes left.
Williams' jumper with 4:28 on the clock, made the game a one possession game (68-65) for the first time less than five minutes into the game (8-5). That was as close as the Lady Vols would get after a furious comeback in the second half.
The Schimmel sisters scored nine straight points for the Cardinals as Jude nailed a 3-pointer with 2:06 left followed by a layup from Shoni to regain a commanding eight-point lead with 1:46 left in the game at 79-71. An Antonia Slaughter layup regained the double-figure lead at 81-71 with 1:09 left. That proved to be the final blow for the Lady Vols and ended their season.
Shoni Schimmel knocked down a 3-pointer to put Louisville ahead by 20 at 49-29, just 90 seconds into the second half. Spani answered with her first points of the half on a 3-pointer of her own seconds later.
Louisville led 41-26 at halftime thanks to 17 total points from the Schimmel sisters as Shoni led all players with 10. Tennessee's top three scorers (Simmons, Graves and Spani) combined for just three points -- all from Graves -- in the first 20 minutes. The Cardinals outrebounded the Lady Vols, 24-14 in the first half, including 10 offensive boards.
The Cardinals used a pair of 6-0 runs early on to take a 14-5, less than six minutes into the game as Shoni Schimmel knocked down a 3-pointer. Louisville increased its lead to double-figures on a 3-pointer by Shoni midway though the half at 21-11.
An 8-0 run by the Cardinals on four consecutive layups pushed the Louisville lead to 17 at 31-14.
Williams' bucket with 2:21 left in the half, cut the deficit to 11, but the lead returned to 15 at the half as Reid put home a layup.
Tennessee had rallied to win from double-digit deficits three times this season vs. MTSU (down by 12), at Auburn (Down by 12) and at Arkansas (down by 11). The Lady Vols rallied from 14-point deficit to win in the Sweet 16 last season vs. Kansas.
It would have been the largest comeback since Tennessee rallied from a 23-point deficit to win at Rutgers, 55-51 on Jan. 3, 2009. The Lady Vols trailed UT trailed Rutgers by 23 with 3:09 left in the first half and 33-13 at the half before coming back for the four-point win.