The three point shootout that Louisville won to upset Tennessee, advance to the Final Four

USA TODAY Sports

Once again, threes played a major part in the Louisville Cardinals upsetting the Tennessee Lady Vols to get to the Final Four. But it was the combination of a balanced attack on their part and taking the Lady Vols out of their game that won the game.

The Louisville Cardinals run to the Final Four wouldn't be quite as shocking if they hadn't managed to get up by 19 on the dominant Baylor Lady Bears in the Sweet 16 and by 20 on the Tennessee Lady Vols in last night's 86-78 win in the Elite Eight.

In both cases, we witnessed Louisville's opponent make a second half comeback that was almost successful as Louisville seemingly began to collapse, either due to poor decision making or foul trouble. And in both cases, I assumed that Louisville would eventually fall apart and lose, similar to what happened when they blew a 14-point second half lead in a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats back in early December.

But the big difference - and definitely the most significant difference, if not the only one - between this team now and that team back in December is that Louisville is shooting the ball much more confidently right now.

Key statistic: Louisville better than usual from beyond the arc

Very similar to their upset of Baylor, Louisville only established a statistical advantage over Tennessee in one aspect of the game: scoring efficiency.

eFG%

Tov%

Oreb%

Fta/Fga

Louisville

51.52%

16.62%

37.84%

31.82%

Tennessee

48.46%

16.56%

38.46%

36.92%

Weighted

eFG%

Tov%

Oreb%

Fta/Fga

Louisville

0.31

0.00

-0.03

-0.11

Four Factors statistics for Louisville and Tennessee in the Elite Eight.

The difference between the two games is two-fold: first, the Cardinals weren't quite as good defensively against the Lady Vols, allowing them to rebound and shoot at about their season average. Second, Louisville's success wasn't so much about the 3-point shot as it was about their three point percentage as it was about the rate at which the two teams shot from beyond the arc, which is probably an obvious statement given that they didn't go tying anymore records last night.

Although Tennessee shooting so poorly from long range was a factor in the game, the number of threes they took was probably more telling.

A team's 3-point rate is akin to their free throw rate: it's the ratio of three pointers attempted to field goals attempted, a frequency rate rather than a success rate. In short, it's not about proficiency but how often a team shoots threes.

Both teams shot threes at a higher rate than their average, but the Lady Vols were just far less effective at doing so.

Team 4/2 3pt % 4/2 3pt rate Season 3pt% Season 3pt rate
Louisville 34.8% 34.84% 30.98% 29.58%
Tennessee 20.8% 36.92% 36% 21.8%

Elite Eight & season (entering the tournament) 3-point rates for Louisville and Tennessee.

Although it's not discussed much, a 3-point rate could be considered to be one aspect of a team's style of play: does a team rely heavily on 3-point shots or look to score from inside the arc? And for reference, the Paul Westhead coached Oregon Ducks had a 3-point rate of 34.27% this season and if we use that as a shorthand we could say that these two teams were shooting as much as a Westhead team - a lot.

What we see from last night's game is that not only were these teams shooting a lot, but that Tennessee strayed much further from their season rate than Louisville did and was far less proficient in doing so. In contrast, Louisville was (once again) shooting more threes than they did on average during the season and did so more successfully.

The net result is that Louisville won what amounted to a 3-point point shootout.

That is admittedly a bit too simplistic though: Tennessee was far less 3-happy in the first half, with a rate closer to normal of 26.92%. But then they were 0-for-7. In the second half, they eventually got to a point where they had to shoot threes as a means to catch up at the end of the game, but even that is telling: they fell behind and simply weren't playing their game.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were rolling behind their star player.

Louisville statistical MVP: Shoni Schimmel leads the Cardinals' three point attack

Shoni Schimmel is playing with a level of confidence that is not only making her extremely difficult for (even Brittney Griner) to defend but also getting more and more fun to watch.

Last night, she led the 3-point attack for Louisville with 4-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc to score a game-high 24 points with a 71.09% true shooting percentage. It's extremely difficult to stop a team with a player playing with that much confidence, but she's hardly the only reason the team won.

Key player: Monique Reid adds to a balanced Louisville attack

While Louisville was shooting a ton of threes, you might also have noticed that they had a healthy free throw rate - they weren't solely standing around and shooting threes.

Unlike a team like Oregon that can get to the point of shooting threes almost to the exclusion of attacking the rim, Louisville managed to do both and do so successfully (85.7%). While Jude Schimmel got all six of her attempts right at the end of the game when the Lady Vols were fouling, Monique Reid was a factor throughout and quietly earned herself points from the free throw line to earn a team-high true shooting percentage of 78.53%.

But more than anything Reid represented the kind of balance Louisville has gotten to go on this run to the Final Four: while Reid was a high efficiency role player in this game, 5-foot-10 Bria Smith led the team with 9 rebounds and 6-foot-4 center Sheronne Valis filled in with a game-high 21.62% offensive rebounding percentage off the bench. Smith and Jude Schimmel combined for 7 assists and 3 turnovers.

Although Louisville only went 7 deep last night, they also got excellent contributions from each player. Yes they were playing extremely loose and simply looked to be having more fun than anyone in the region, but they were also extremely efficient and productive while playing together as a unit.

Tennessee statistical MVP: Bashaara Graves leads bright future for the Lady Vols

Meanwhile, it's unclear what happened to the Lady Vols last night.

It was reasonable to assume that with Baylor out of the way the path was cleared for the Lady Vols to make another tournament appearance. But it's difficult to do that with the type of first half that they had: 0-for-7 3-point shooting and an equally rough 9 turnovers.

6-foot-2 freshman Bashaare Graves was the bright spot with a double-double in her final game of an impressive first year with 11 points and 10 rebounds. But in an 8 point game, even her 5-for-10 free throw shooting loomed large.

But in a way Tennessee really has nothing to be ashamed of: entering the season, most had far lower expectations than an Elite Eight appearance as we discussed with David Hooper of SB Nation's Rocky Top Talk in a roundtable back in February. This was the upper end of the expectations for the Lady Vols, yet what has to make it so disappointing is that it was arguably their best opportunity to make the Final Four in the last few years.

Nevertheless, Tennessee's future is bright: it's likely they'll be back to this point over the next few years with the recruiting class they have coming in and making the Final Four at some point seems likely.

But for now it's Louisville's time and while they are shooting threes better than normal, this Final Four trip is hardly a fluke.

For more on the game and Louisville's path to the Final Four, check out our Oklahoma City region storystream.

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