RALEIGH, N.C. — As the Louisville Cardinals circled around to cut down the nets for the first time, the scoreboard clock still showed one-tenth of a second remaining.
How appropriate: time hasn’t run out yet on the most successful tournament run in program history.
Louisville is headed to the Final Four for the first time, after Angel McCoughtry finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds in a 77-60 upset of top-seeded Maryland in the Raleigh Regional final Monday night.
Deseree Byrd added 17 points and nine assists and Candyce Bingham had 15 points for the third-seeded Cardinals (33-4).
They never trailed and led by double figures for virtually the entire second half in continuing an improbable march through the bracket that started on LSU’s inhospitable home court.
“(The players) had to get us out of Baton Rouge … and they did that. I told them, ‘If you get that done, we’ll get you to the Final Four,”’ coach Jeff Walz said. “They believed in everything we told them. They sat there and they laid it on the line for us. They followed a game plan tonight as well as any team I’ve coached. It’s a credit to them to believing in what we’re doing, and it shows.”
They did, and now they’ve earned a spot against the winner of the Oklahoma City regional — either Oklahoma or Purdue — Sunday night in St. Louis.
“I’m dreaming right now,” McCoughtry said. Then, she gestured to Byrd and adding, “pinch me, Des.”
Marissa Coleman finished with 18 points two nights after scoring a career-high 42 against Vanderbilt and Marah Strickland added 15 the top-seeded Terrapins (31-5), who finally ran out of comebacks. Two nights after rallying from 18 down to beat the Commodores, the Terps turned it over 21 times — a major reason why they were denied their fourth trip to the national semifinals.
“They did a really good job of making us uncomfortable, throwing different looks at us,” guard Kristi Toliver said. “They wanted to be physical from the beginning. We knew they were going to be that way, and we never really could get into rhythm.”
Headed there instead is a Cardinals team led by a Baltimore native, McCoughtry, and coached by Walz, a former Maryland assistant.
Just when the Terps thought they had clawed back into the game late, the Cardinals’ seniors put it away.
Coleman hit a 3-pointer to pull Maryland within eight at the five-minute mark. But Bingham responded seconds later with a layup over Demauria Liles to start the 13-2 run that pushed it into double figures to stay. McCoughtry added hit a 3-pointer over Liles and Bingham followed that with a layup to stretch it to 67-52.
“They carry us,” Byrd said. “We just follow.”
Once again, McCoughtry was the Cardinals’ primary option on offense. The Big East’s defensive player of the year got plenty of chances to show her scoring touch — she was 9-for-25 in this one and combined to shoot 19-for-53 in two games in Raleigh.
She helped the Cardinals to win for the 12th time in 13 games and snapped Maryland’s 15-game winning streak with a victory that was particularly sweet — yet also emotionally draining — for Walz.
He spent six years assisting Brenda Frese and drew up the most memorable play of Maryland’s national title in 2006 — the 3-pointer in the final seconds by the then-freshman Toliver that forced overtime against Duke.
“I told them it’s one of the hardest games I’ve ever had to coach,” Walz said. “It’s different if you’re playing them in a regular-season game because everybody’s career continues on. But this was a game where we came out on the top side of it, and their careers are over.”
There were no such heroics this time for Toliver, the ACC player of the year who finished with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Nor were there any for Coleman, who wept inconsolably and nearly collapsed as she came off the court for the final time with about a minute remaining.
“It’s always tough to have that moment for seniors, for their careers to end,” Frese said. “Especially two seniors like these two. … You hate for it to end like this.”
Liles had 10 points and 17 rebounds for Maryland. Freshman Becky Burke finished with 10 points for the Cardinals, who sent the Terps into an early hole they couldn’t escape.
They used an early 13-3 run to take a quick double-figure lead, with Monique Reed’s layup with just under eight minutes before the break making it 24-14.
“We came out from the jump and we played hard,” Byrd said. “We all have heart.”
Part of Maryland’s problem was that its two biggest stars, Coleman and Toliver, combined to go 3-for-15 in the first half. The Terps managed just three field goals in a span of roughly 11½ minutes and were held to a season-low 25 points at halftime.
The Cardinals overcame some shooting struggles of their own. They went scoreless for nearly six minutes, missing nine straight shots, and McCoughtry misfired on eight in a row before swishing a mid-range jumper at the buzzer that put Louisville up 30-25 at the break.
Then, after withstanding Maryland’s second-half attempt to get back in it, they could keep thinking big.
“It’s time to go to Disney World,” McCoughtry said, breaking into a laugh as she added, “oh, wait. We’ve got two more games.”