Thirty-three years ago, the U.S. men's hockey team defeated the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics, one of the most stunning upsets in the history of sports. Even though the Americans had accomplished a remarkable feat, a gold medal was still another victory away. As you may know, the U.S. took care of business against Finland to claim that gold medal.
Sunday night, Louisville did the women's basketball equivalent of taking down the Soviet Union, stunning No. 1 overall seed Baylor in a wild affair, ending Brittney Griner's legendary career. The Cardinals may have pulled off the greatest upset in women's NCAA tournament history, a huge feat for coach Jeff Walz' program. However, without a win over Tennessee Tuesday night—which would give the Cardinals their second Final Four trip—the win over the Bears would be significantly reduced in its impact.
The Cardinals took care of business Tuesday night, defeating the Volunteers 86-78 to cap a magical time in Oklahoma City. While Louisville's trip to the Final Four is great for the Cardinals, it's even better for women's college basketball.
Baylor was the presumed national champion this season after returning all five starters from last season's 40-0 national championship team. Dynasties have been the theme of the sport for the past two decades. Since 1993, only 30 teams have filled the 84 possible Final Four spots. Connecticut has appeared 13 times, Tennessee, 11 and Stanford, eight.
There aren't a lot of opportunities for teams to break through in women's basketball. 15 teams have made the Final Four just once since 1993, a very low number considering the tournament begins with 64 teams every March. With powerhouses such as Connecticut and Tennessee, it always seems as if teams are playing for just one or two remaining spots in the Final Four.
That's why Louisville's win over Baylor and subsequent win over Tennessee was so significant for the women's game. It showed the country the giants can be toppled on the biggest stage and that upsets aren't just anomalies that occur from time to time in the regular season.
This may be Louisville's second trip to the Final Four—the Cardinals defeated Oklahoma in 2009 before falling to Connecticut in the title game—but the Cardinals are still a new player on the national stage. There have been many of those over the years, many long forgotten as true national title contenders. For example, LSU went to five consecutive Finals Fours from 2004-2008, but never won a game once there. Now, the Tigers are almost an afterthought in the game, memories of Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles all that remain of the Tigers' dominant run.
It's very possible the Cardinals could go the way of LSU, or North Carolina and Purdue, two very good programs, but ones that need several things to fall right in order to have a real shot at a national title.
For now, though, the Cardinals proved giants can be taken down under the brightest spotlight the sport has to offer and in the process, may have shown parity in women's college basketball is more prevalent than it appears.