OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Win or lose.
It's a simple proposition. It's what competition is all about, the reason they keep score, why one team celebrates by popping jerseys while their fans take videos and pictures with their cell phones.
Losing an NCAA Tournament game to end a season evokes tears and blank stares whether it's men or women. Over the last three days, top-seeded men's and women's teams from the Big 12 Conference have had their seasons ended in different ways that evoked the same feelings that a tanker truck of Pepto-Bismol can't cure.
Losing the way Kansas and Baylor lost – the Jayhawks lost on Good Friday, the Lady Bears on Easter Sunday – redefines the term "bad loss." Kansas let a game get away it thought it had won. Baylor nearly stole a victory in a game it thought it had lost and finally did lose. A loss is a loss … unless it leaves the players feeling like they've had a vital organ forcibly removed.
Fifth-seeded Louisville scored 48 points on record-setting 3-point shooting and got two free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining to stun the Lady Bears, 82-81, in the Oklahoma City Region semifinals.
"It's a tough way to lose," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "Hard to lose when it's your last game, but the way this ended made it tougher."
Baylor had won 32 consecutive games, was beating teams by 27 points a game, had the best player in women's basketball history, the defending national champions … reaching next weekend's Final Four in New Orleans was a minimum expectation.
"Personally, I think the season was a waste," Baylor senior Destiny Williams said. "We wanted to win another championship."
The Cardinals (27-8) had faced two other top seeds (Notre Dame twice, Connecticut once) and all of their losses came to NCAA Tournament teams. And on a day when the Louisville men advanced to the Final Four, the women's team did the unthinkable.
"We put a game plan together as a coaching staff," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "I've been telling them the entire year, if we can just get 40 minutes out of everybody, not playing great, just playing good, we could be special. We came out here tonight and we executed a plan defensively, offensively, and did everything we needed to do."
The Cardinals' built a wall around Brittney Griner. She had countered double teams by finding open teammates but there was no one to find. Griner finished her career with 14 points, making 4-of-10 shots.
"We wanted to attack off the dribble but you've got to hit some 10 to 12 footers," Mulkey said.
"Well, I think I could smell what toothpaste she used," Louisville's Antonita Slaughter said of Griner. "I was in her face all the time with my hands up."
Louisville's offensive strategy involved long-range shooting and the Cardinals' accuracy was breathtaking. They made 16 of their 25 3-point attempts (64 percent). Baylor had never allowed more than 11 threes in a game. The previous NCAA record for a Sweet 16 game was 10 3-pointers.
"When their post player steps out and hits a couple of threes, you know it's gonna be a long day," Mulkey said. "That was there game plan. I'm not sure it was because of poor defense."
Shoni Schimmel (5-of-8) and Slaughter (7-of-9) combined for 12 of 17 shooting from behind the arc. A number of those were 25 footers. Louisville made 8-of-11 in the first half resulting in a 39-29 halftime lead.
Baylor twice had a chance to cut the lead to five points early in the second half but Brooklyn Pope missed two free throws and Griner missed a rare opportunity from in the lane. Bolstered with confidence, the Cardinals then made their next seven shots from 3-point land.
Schimmel scored on a circus shot, over-the-head flip layup and was fouled by Griner with 9:50 remaining. Schimmel appeared to taunt Griner before she went to the line and made the free throw for a 65-48 lead.
That epitomized the chippy nature of the game, particularly the second half. Schimmel and Bria Smith fouled out and when Smith got her fifth, Walz was called for a technical. Odyssey Sims made two free throws and scored on the ensuing possession to make it 78-76 with 1:53 remaining.
"Kids are getting knocked down and bringing it across with body contact, it's not called," Walz said. "That's fine, but I'm not just going to sit there and take it."
Sims fueled Baylor's rally, scoring 15 of her 29 points in the last seven minutes. Her 3-pointer with 34 seconds remaining pulled Baylor to within 80-79. After a Louisville free throw miss, Nae-Nae Hayden missed a shot in the lane, Baylor's Jordan Madden got the rebound but was then called for a charge.
Louisville turned it over on the inbounds pass against Baylor's press, Sims came up with the ball and was fouled. She made both free throws with 9.1 seconds remaining for an 81-80 lead.
"We just kept fighting and never gave up," said Sims, who played all 40 minutes. "I did all I can, I never stopped fighting."
The Cardinals inbounded the ball and got it to senior Monique Reid, who drove from mid-court to the basket. Griner blocked her layup but was called for a foul with 2.6 seconds remaining.
"I mean, I feel like I got all ball, but, you know, I mean, wasn't my call," Griner said, sniffling through tears.
"I was just thankful we got the call on that last drive," Walz said. "It was a late whistle but I'm sure glad he called it because she got clobbered."
Reid, a 69.4 percent free throw shooter who had missed the front end of a one-and-one with 31.6 seconds remaining, made both free throws. Baylor inbounded to Sims 70 feet from the basket and her desperation heave didn't come close.
"We were right there," she said. "We just couldn't finish it."
Kansas knows the feeling.