Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz took the blame Friday after his Cardinals saw their sizeable late lead evaporate on their way to suffering a stunning 61-59 upset to No. 7 seed Miami in the ACC tournament quarterfinals in Greensboro, N.C.
Leading by 15 points with just 5:44 remaining, Louisville had a 99.9% chance to win the game, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI), but Miami outscored the No. 2-seed Cardinals 17-0 in the final five minutes to complete its furious rally. The Hurricanes' Destiny Harden sealed the win with a turnaround jumper at the buzzer.
"I'll take the blame for this," Walz said after Louisville lost before the semifinals for the first time since joining the ACC in 2015. "I tried to sub a little bit there at the end, trying to keep some fresh legs, possibly thinking you're going through a tournament, three games in hopefully three days, and we lost all of our rhythm offensively. And then we took some real poor shots, didn't defend, didn't guard. Everything that we needed to do to allow them to come back in the game, we did.
"I'm not going to put the blame on these kids. It's my fault... As a coach I learned a valuable lesson there today."
Louisville (25-4) was one of the top four seeds in the NCAA Division I women's basketball's committee's third and final bracket reveal Monday, along with Stanford, South Carolina and NC State. But it could fall from the one-line if Baylor goes on a deep run in the Big 12 tournament this week in Kansas City, according to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme.
The game also marked the 10th time this season that a team lost after entering the fourth quarter with at least a 14-point lead, and Louisville is the only team that's been on the losing end of multiple such games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Cardinals previously lost to NC State 68-59 in mid-January when they allowed the Wolfpack to erase their 16-point lead and outscore them 31-8 in the fourth.
"Unfortunately for our group, we haven't completely figured that out yet, that I don't care what the score is, the first possession of the game is just as important as the last possession of the game," Walz said. "It's a tough lesson to learn, but it's one that I hope we're going to learn from and make some quick adjustments because you've got a good week and a half now to sit on this. And if this doesn't sit in your gut and piss you off, I don't know what to do for them."
Guard Kianna Smith shared her coach's frustration at letting another big lead disappear.
"That was awful," she said. "There's no question about it. This is the second time that's happened to us this year, and we have to learn from it and make changes."
The Cardinals went 0 for 5 from the field and committed five turnovers in the final five minutes of the game. Louisville had two starters, Hailey Van Lith and Olivia Cochran, in as Miami started its comeback with under five to play. Four of Walz's five starters were back in after Miami cut the deficit to eight with 3:25 to play, though Van Lith sat for the majority of the final three minutes.
"I sucked. I had some bad combinations out there, and it kind of just threw everything off kilter," Walz said. "We didn't communicate."
Harden scored 15 of her 27 in the Hurricanes run of 17 unanswered points to propel the Hurricanes, one of Creme's "last four bye" teams, to victory.
"Safe to say we're off the bubble?" Miami coach Katie Meier said. "I really don't still know," I was looking for a book to figure out what happened. Did Destiny go on a 14-0 run by herself? Is that true? 15? Wow."