On Easter Sunday evening, Notre Dame ended perhaps the most exciting Women’s College Basketball Final Four EVER. Two overtime games and a last second three to end it and in the end head coach Muffin McGraw, who’s team weathered three ACL injuries to pull off the most unbelievable finish in an adverse season. Meanwhile, the University of Louisville Women’s basketball team, who beat those same Lady Irish basketball players twice, had to be watching and wondering “What If!” There’s no question that luck plays a huge part in advancing in sports regardless of the level, but one thing is certain in that you are always told by your coach that you play every play like your last play because you never know if you’ll get another chance to get back.
There’s no question that the Mississippi State Final Four was one of the best games and one of the toughest for the Lady Cardinals especially with Coach Jeff Walz’s defense having to deal with the huge Teaira McCowan (or for a better term Sam Fuehring, who drew the defensive assignment) and how to stop her. Although McCowan finished with 21-points and 25-rebounds (13 offensively), Fuehring made her work for all of them (at least the ones while she was on the floor). Still, the play everyone seems to point to is her fourth foul with 2:42 left and Louisville trailing 54-53 after a missed shot and both she and McCowan got tangled up under the basket. Fuehring slapped the floor in frustration and was Teed up meaning she was gone and Mississippi State would get free throws and possession. With Fuehring gone, Louisville still had a chance to win it, but was unable to stop a three that tied the game and then Hines-Allen missed a contested shot at the seconds left and then Jazmine Jones missed the putback. After that the Lady Bulldogs took advantage of Fuehring’s absence to put the game away.
Still, the game and the Championship will be looked upon by Louisville fans as an “Opportunity Lost!” Imagine these Lady Cardinals pulling that one out and facing the winner of Notre Dame and U Conn in game two. After the Lady Irish overcame an overtime struggle with the Lady Huskies, it would have been quite a Championship game and a possibility of Louisville still being able to salvage a season on the women’s basketball side after the turbulent year that the Men’s Basketball season was like, but more importantly, not having to deal with the specter of running in to UConn again in a Final (like 2009 and 2013).
In the sports universe missed chances happen quite often and there are plenty of stories of teams and athletes that NEVER could win a Championship like Louisville, but came close.
Dan Marino was one of the greatest passing quarterbacks of All Time in the NFL and made a Super Bowl appearance in his second season with the Miami Dolphins. After losing to the San Francisco 49ers, the sky is the limit and there would be more chances in his 17-year career, Right?!
In former Dallas Cowboy Bill Bates autobiography “Shoot For The Star” he referenced a moment during a golf match during the 1992 season just before the Cowboys were about to play in the Super Bowl, his first in his 10-year stay. Bates was out for the season because of an injury after week five and felt robbed of his chance to play in a championship game. At a celebrity function he had a conversation with both Marino and John Elway, who were also there. The two Hall of Fame passers told him that he should be happy that he was going to be on the sideline and involved because they would both love to be there (at the time Elway hadn’t won a Super Bowl yet.).
Boston Red sox great Carl Yastrzemski watched his team lose the 1975 World Series to the Cincinnati reds in seven games, but surely they would be back and get their trophy, right?!!!!
Karl Malone and John Stockton were two of the greatest on a great Utah Jazz team, but NEVER had the chance to win a trophy until they faced the Bulls in 1998 and lost in six games. Surely they would eventually get back, right?!!!
The point I’m making is that no matter how talented or driven a team is after failing to win a championship, you can never assume that your team will be back. Every team is different season to season. Players have great seasons and bad seasons and each year has a different aura of drama or conflict and most of all the other teams are different too. Different players create different matchups and just as important injuries will also be a determining factor. How often has a season either been lost or saved because an injury to a key player on your team or another team might change a championship squad into a celler dweller.
So when you refer to the 2017-2018 season for the Louisville Lady Cardinals Basketball team, try to understand what the term “Opportunity Lost” meant, because this could have been the team that could win an NCAA Championship. They had balanced scoring from several players, great defense and everything seemed to fall into place. They were winning the close ones (except for a one-point loss to Florida State and a stumble against UConn) and had lots of momentum going into the tournament after winning their first ACC Championship. All this after losing one of their top scorers, who chose to transfer out after last season and the team still got better.
Walz will lose only one starter and should have plenty of talent back for another run at the elusive Championship and hopefully they can learn from this season’s lost opportunity.