LOUISVILLE, Ky. — From the tip, the game followed a frenetic pace. Egged on by a sea of red, the top-seeded Cardinals jumped out to a quick start.
The crowd was raucous to begin with, but a 3-pointer and breakaway layup from Louisville’s All-American guard Asia Durr put it into a full-out frenzy.
After just three minutes of play, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico had already called timeout in an attempt to calm her team's nerves after falling behind 10-2.
Though those nerves calmed eventually, the Michigan women’s basketball team (22-12) had already dug itself a hole against the Cardinals (31-3) that it couldn’t climb out of, eventually losing 71-50.
The Wolverines’ offense looked completely out of sorts early. Louisville’s pressure defense overwhelmed Michigan’s ball-handlers, leading to five turnovers within the first five minutes of the game.
“They sped us up a lot,” said junior guard Akienreh Johnson. “That was their game plan. They like to take away the point guard because it messes up everything on offense. I don’t think they did anything different against us, but they definitely brought a lot of intensity the first couple minutes of the game.”
The turnovers led to offensive opportunities, especially for Durr, who went 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in the first quarter — including a four-point play.
“I don’t think we did a good job on Durr initially,” Barnes Arico said. “Anytime a great player gets going early, you know you’re in trouble. Once you get some open looks and you get them to fall, holy cow and that happened with her. They did a tremendous job finding her early.”
With the help of their full-court press, the Wolverines did settle in towards the end of the quarter. Off an inbounds play, Michigan’s freshmen duo connected for two as point guard Amy Dilk lofted the ball to forward Naz Hillmon.
Louisville’s stellar 3-point shooting also subsided as the quarter went on. Even still, the Cardinals led the Wolverines by eight after 10 minutes.
The pace continued into the second frame. Dilk answered a tough fadeaway from Durr with a contested layup over forward Kylee Shook.
Louisville’s offense methodically worked through Michigan’s press. In one sequence, Durr, caught in mid-air between two Wolverine defenders, made a no-look pass to a cutting Jazmine Jones, who finished the layup with ease.
Michigan was made to continually climb out of a hole. Every time the Wolverines had a productive offensive possession, they gave up two on the other end.
In many ways, Michigan was lucky to trail by just 12 points entering the halftime break — given a season-high 17 turnovers and a potent offensive performance from the Cardinals.
The Wolverines cleaned up their turnover issues in the third quarter. Dilk and sophomore guard Deja Church handled the Louisville press more efficiently and yet, Michigan couldn’t outpace the Cardinals’ offense.
Durr continued to orchestrate their offense to perfection — hitting difficult jumpers and sharing the ball when necessary. Jones also provided a spark for Louisville with six third-quarter points.
“(Durr’s) an All-American, but she is also the kind of kid that let’s the game come to her,” Barnes Arico said. “She doesn’t press too much. She did a tremendous job for them tonight.”
Though not induced by turnovers, the Wolverines’ empty possessions cost them. Consecutive over-the-top dishes from Jones to her bigs and another three-pointer from Durr increased Michigan’s deficit to 23 entering the final quarter.
Rebounding had been a strength of the Wolverines throughout the year and particularly in their first-round game against Kansas State — when they out-rebounded the Wildcats 50-19. That disparity was nowhere to be seen against the Cardinals, who managed to outdo Michigan on the glass.
“Everybody started to get into the mix,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz. “We had talked to the guards and said ‘You’ve got to rebound the basketball.’ One thing we told our kids, whoever was guarding Hillmon, ‘I don’t care if you get a rebound, she can’t.’ ”
The Wolverines did what they could to chip away. In what ended up being her final game, senior guard Nicole Munger, as she has done so many times before, hit a three-pointer from the wing. On a fastbreak, she then found senior center Hallie Thome for two points to briefly cut the lead to 18.
Unfortunately for Michigan, this run was short-lived. Louisville was one step ahead of the Wolverines and exploited any holes in their defense. Durr — who finished with 24 points — hit her fifth three-pointer to officially put the game out of reach.
As the seconds ticked away on Michigan’s season, the Cardinals emptied their bench, replacing key contributors Durr and Jones to standing ovations from the 8,000 Louisville fans in attendance.
On the other side, Munger and Thome trotted off the court for the final time in their impressive careers as Wolverines.
“I think a lot of people doubted us this year with losing Katelynn Flaherty,” Thome said. “But we proved so many people wrong. I definitely wouldn’t have traded it for the world to have gone through Michigan. I’m excited to see them only get better.”