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The University of Louisville men’s and women’s basketball teams have a chance to make history early next week.
Both Cardinals squads will compete in the NCAA Final Fours this weekend – the men in Atlanta and the women in New Orleans – with the chance to become only the second school (Connecticut did it in 2004) to win both national championships in the same season (the men’s title game is Monday night, the women’s Tuesday night).
But one Shelbyville resident will make history as soon as she steps on the court Sunday night at New Orleans Arena. That’s because Cardinals guard Antonita Slaughter will become the first Shelby County woman to play in a Final Four.
Slaughter is averaging 9.9 points and 5 rebounds per game in her breakout season for the Cardinals (28-8), who meet California at 6:30 p.m. Sunday night (Notre Dame plays Connecticut in the second semifinal). A reserve for her first two seasons, Slaughter emerged this season as more than just a 3-point shooter for Louisville, earning second-team All-Big East honors.
She has averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
Slaughter starred in fifth-seeded UofL’s 82-81 upset of top-ranked and reigning national champion Baylor last Sunday in the Sweet 16, scoring 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. She scored seven points in the Cards’ 86-78 victory over Tennessee on Tuesday night in the Oklahoma City Regional final as Louisville crashed the Final Four.
“We ruined the entire party,” said UofL women’s coach Jeff Walz, who guided the Cards to a national runner-up finish in 2009. “We’re the ugly ducklings that ruined the party. No one gave us a chance, and we shocked everybody. It’s a journey, and we’re going to continue.”
And although the men’s team enters its game against Wichita State (which is slated to tipoff at 6:09 p.m. Saturday night) as the Final Four favorites (a pair of fourth-seeded teams – Michigan and Syracuse – play in the other semifinal) and the sentimental pick (considering the national outpouring of support sophomore guard Kevin Ware has received since breaking his leg in the Midwest Regional final against Duke), the women’s team – led by Slaughter, Shoni Schimmel and Sara Hammond – is considered a long-shot.
“It’s a remarkable group,” Walz said. “It’s an unbelievable story.”