COLUMBUS, Ohio -- All she did, Sam Fuehring said, was slap the floor with both hands. Didn't cuss. Didn't call the official a name.
Two minutes, 42 seconds remained in regulation Friday night, in a Women's Final Four semifinal that was going down to the final possession. Fuehring, Louisville's 6-foot-2 junior forward, spent most of Friday night struggling to contain Mississippi State's 6-foot-7 junior center Teaira McCowan, and Fuehring wasn't happy about it. McCowan finished with 25 rebounds, 13 on the offensive glass, plus 21 points, carrying the Bulldogs to a 73-63 overtime victory while playing the full 45 minutes.
"I tried my hardest to keep her off the boards," Fuehring said. "The refs were not calling anything in my favor so that did not help."
McCowan is probably headed for a productive career in the WNBA, and nothing Fuehring tried worked. With Louisville trailing 54-53 and less than three minutes to play in regulation, Cardinals coach Jeff Walz told Fuehring to front McCowan. Mississippi State's Victoria Vivians missed a jumper, and while Fuehring and McCowan tangled for rebounding position, Fuehring said McCowan shoved a forearm into her neck, snapping her head back and driving her to the floor. Whistle. Foul on Fuehring, her fourth.
"When I heard that call, I was confused," Fuehring said. "I was frustrated. That's when I slapped the floor."
The technical foul call brought Walz scampering down the sideline from his bench, screaming at the officials. Morgan William, the best foul shooter in the Southeastern Conference, hit both for a 56-53 Bulldogs lead. Louisville, however, responded with the next six points before Mississippi State's Roshunda Johnson, cutting open when the Cardinals were slow to foul, hit a tying 3-pointer with seven seconds to play.
The technical irked Walz as much as anything, on a maddening night that saw the Cardinals twice miss potential winning shots at the end of regulation, then shoot 1-for-10 from the field in overtime.
"I struggled with that call right there and then," Walz said in the hallway outside the Louisville locker room at Nationwide Arena. "If she said something derogatory to the official, fine. But slapping the floor? How many technical fouls would the Duke men's basketball team have had back about 15 years ago when they slapped the floor to be on defense? God forbid. So I struggled with that one."
Walz said he never received an explanation from the officials. "Bob Huggins (the West Virginia men's coach) said, 'I'd love to have the officials go up there and take questions because I'd love to know what that answer would be.' It's disappointing. You're playing in the Final Four. Warn the kid."
Fuehring, slumped in her locker after the game, still couldn't believe it.
"Honestly, if it was a men's game and they did that, they probably wouldn't even T him up," she said. "But girls ... I got emotional and I slapped the floor. I didn't agree with the [foul] call. I thought it was a bad call to be honest."
That didn't cost Louisville the game. A jumper by Myisha Hines-Allen, then layups by Arica Carter and Hines-Allen make it 59-56 Louisville with 11 seconds left. Mississippi State had the ball, and the Cardinals had a foul to give. But rather than foul quickly, Walz told his players to let Mississippi State get into its offense before fouling to take precious seconds off the clock. Worst case, give up a layup but not a 3-pointer.
"Once they got it in and started setting up their action, we wanted to foul up top," Walz said. "When the ball is thrown inbounds, and you foul and take one second off the clock, who cares? So we were trying to get them into something. Once they try to run something, then foul. But she made a quick pass, and we had a little miscommunication."
Two players chased after 3-point threat Blair Schaefer. McCowan jumped out to set a screen, William passed to Johnson coming around, and the left-handed Johnson sank the tying 3-pointer from left wing.
That still left enough time for Louisville to run down and tie it. But Hines-Allen missed an off-balance runner, and a putback by the late-arriving Jazmine Jones rolled off the rim.
Leading scorer Asia Durr struggled against Mississippi State's physical defense, finishing with 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting and also going the full 45 minutes to match McCowan.
"I've been guarded like that throughout the whole year," Durr said. "It's nothing new. The refs really change up how they call it. It's not always the same."
Walz spent several minutes in his postgame news conference praising Hines-Allen (11 points and four steals), the team's only senior who ended her career third on Louisville's career scoring list with 2,028 points. The Cardinals made it to their third Final Four in 11 years, and their returning depth makes them a threat to return next year.
But no one on the Louisville side thought much about that Friday. They also had no way of knowing that three hours later, Notre Dame -- a team the Cardinals beat twice in the regular season, the first time by 33 points -- would knock out UConn in the second semifinal. An opportunity lost, in more ways than one.
"Athletics is a wonderful thing," Walz said. "It's a great thing, boy, but there's some ups and downs that just kick you square in the ass. Right now, this is one of them."