NEW ORLEANS With Cal stinging from defeat in the semifinals of the women's NCAA Tournament on Sunday, senior Layshia Clarendon offered her teammates positive words to put the 64-57 loss to Louisville in perspective.
"Don't hang your heads; we've come too far," was the message Clarendon said she delivered to her teammates. "I just can't help but smile because what we've done is beyond amazing."
Coach Lindsay Gottlieb echoed Clarendon's sentiments that the Bears' first run to the Final Four and their historic season shouldn't be spoiled by the loss at New Orleans Arena.
But the Bears (32-4) were kicking themselves for a poor second half that allowed the Cardinals (29-8) to become the lowest seed to reach a national title game. Louisville, a fifth seed, will look to cap its magical postseason run against Connecticut on Tuesday.
Cal let a 10-point second-half lead slip away as Louisville stymied the inside game that worked so well for the Bears in the first half.
"It's going to hurt, definitely, because we knew there were mistakes," Clarendon said. "It wasn't like we played someone who's flat-out better."
Louisville coach Jeff Walz slightly adjusted his defensive plan coming out of halftime. The Cardinals switched between man and zone defense often, and their pressure didn't allow the Bears to play at the fast pace they wanted.
Cal also was stopped from making a living off second-chance points, as it often does.
"They came out more feisty and physical," the Bears' Gennifer Brandon said. "They threw a lot of different defenses at us to get us rattled."
Walz said the biggest differences in the second half were the Cardinals' offensive execution and rebounding.
"The bottom line is we finally did a better job of keeping them off the glass," Walz said. "And when they did get an offensive rebound, they were long offensive rebounds. They weren't able to just go back up and score."
Cal led 52-46 with 5:23 left before Louisville surged. The Cardinals took the lead for good, 60-57, when Sara Hammond converted a tiebreaking three-point play with 1:28 left.
With her team behind by three with 30 seconds left, Gottlieb inserted three-point specialist Mikayla Lyles, but she came up short on two shots from beyond the arc in the final 18 seconds.
The Bears were forced to foul, and Bria Smith and Jude Schimmel were each 2 for 2 from the line in the final seconds to secure the win.
Antonita Slaughter made 6 of 10 from three-point range and led Louisville with 18 points.
Cal contained Shoni Schimmel for much of the game. Schimmel, who was averaging 20 points in the NCAA Tournament, connected on just 1 of 7 shots in the opening half with Clarendon and Eliza Pierre doing most of the defensive work on her. She finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting and six assists.
Clarendon scored 17 points to lead Cal, which shot 58.6 percent in the first half but only 30 percent in the final 20 minutes.
Bears point guard Brittany Boyd was slowed by back spasms in the first half and a badly jammed finger in the second half. She scored 10 points and had six of Cal's 19 turnovers but said the ailments didn't slow her down.
Gottlieb said this Cal team set the standard for the future, both in what it achieved on the court and how it did it.
"I think forever the legacy they will have left from this year is that when you come to Cal, you play for the person next to you," Gottlieb said. "You play with a lot of character, you work really hard, you make the name on the front of your chest the most important thing even if you're really, really talented."