March Madness: No. 11 MTSU stuns No. 6 Louisville with 3rd-largest comeback in women's tournament history

No. 6 Louisville looked well on its way to an easy win on Friday, opening a 38-20 first-half lead over No. 11 Middle Tennessee State.

The Blue Raiders had other ideas.

Middle Tennessee cut its deficit to 38-27 at halftime then took over in the second half for a 71-69 stunner to send the Cardinals home in the first round of NCAA tournament play. The comeback from an 18-point deficit tied for the third-largest in the history of the women's NCAA tournament.

Rare early exit for Cardinals

It marked the first time in Louisville head coach Jeff Walz's career that his Cardinals lost in the first round. Each of Louisville's 15 previous tournament teams under Walz won at least one game. Louisville had advanced to the Elite Eight or beyond in five consecutive tournaments.

After cutting their deficit to 11 at halftime, the Blue Raiders continued to chip away at Louisville's lead in the third quarter. A Savannah Wheeler layup with 50 seconds remaining in the third gave MTSU its first lead of the game at 50-48. The Blue Raiders expanded that lead to 64-56 on an Anastasiia Boldyreva layup with 2:07 left in regulation.

The Cardinals cut their deficit to two points with 4.9 seconds left and had a look at a potential game-winner. After an intentional foul, MTSU's Ta'Mia Scott missed two free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining on the clock, giving the Cardinals one last shot. But Merissah Russell's desperation heave from beyond halfcourt bounced off the rim to ensure MTSU's upset win.

Blue Raiders win with 6 players

Wheeler and Jalynn Gregory led MTSU's rally. Gregory finished with a game-high 24 points alongside four assists and three rebounds. She shot 5 of 8 from the field including 4 of 7 shots from 3-point distance. She did damage at the line while hitting 10 of 11 free throws.

Wheeler posted 22 points while connecting on 3 of 5 shots from 3-point distance. Boldyreva posted a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds as the Blue Raiders pulled off the upset using a six-woman rotation.

Anastasiia Boldyreva and MTSU rallied from an 18-point deficit to upset Louisville. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Anastasiia Boldyreva and MTSU rallied from an 18-point deficit to upset Louisville. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Olivia Cochran led Louisville with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Nina Rickards added 12 points and five rebounds as the only other Cardinals player to score in double figures.

Each team posted similar efforts shooting from the floor. Louisville shot 39.7% and hit 6 of 19 (31.6%) 3-point attempts. MTSU shot 39.2% from the floor and 8 of 23 (34.3%) from 3-point distance. The Blue Raiders found their edge on the line.

MTSU attempted 23 more free throws than Louisville and built a 13-point edge at the line while hitting 23 of 33 attempts. Louisville connected on 9 of 10 attempts. MTSU advances to face the winner between No. 3 LSU and No. 14 Rice.