The final three seconds felt like forever for Maryland.
Alyssa Thomas could only watch from her back as Shoni Schimmel's potential game-tying 3-pointer flew to the rim before harmlessly clanging off the back and setting off a wild celebration by the Terrapins.
Yes, Maryland is headed back to the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2006 after holding off Louisville, 76-73, Tuesday night at the buzzer in the Cardinals' home arena.
"She had hit back-to-back, crazy, wild clutch shots," Maryland's Lexie Brown said of Louisville's star senior. "So for her to, it was a great look, and all I could do was pray that it didn't go in."
Maryland was ahead by 12 with 2:03 left when Louisville went on a furious rally. Maryland coach Brenda Frese even took a timeout after Thomas, her All-American, hit only one of two free throws with 3.5 seconds left, and Frese let her Terrapins decide whether to foul or play defense. The Terrapins chose to double-team Schimmel and tried to get a hand up.
"Obviously, it paid off for us," Frese said.
Thomas scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as Maryland (28-6) reached its fourth Final Four in program history. The Terrapins pulled off their second consecutive upset in Louisville with this victory much harder in essentially a home game for the third-seeded Cardinals, with a crowd of 14,002 mostly in Louisville red.
Even though Frese said she would just picture all the red inside the KFC Yum! Center as Maryland faithful no matter how loud they screamed, the Terrapins moved their bench onto the floor almost into the paint for timeouts.
"To be able to pull off this upset, it's easy to say a team should win on their home court," Frese said. "But this team just keeps believing and they just keep staying grounded and we'll continue to stay true to ourselves."
Schimmel finished with 31 points for the Cardinals (33-5).
"I was actually kind of open for me to take that shot," Schimmel said. "We perfected it, the ball just didn't go in. The one that didn't go in was the last shot I wanted. But it just didn't fall. Nothing much you can do about that."
■ Stanford 74, North Carolina 65: Chiney Ogwumike is carrying her team to Music City and one more Final Four she planned for all along, going for 20 points and 10 rebounds as second-seeded Stanford beat North Carolina in the regional final on the Cardinal's home floor. Mikaela Ruef scored a career-high 17 points, Amber Orrange added 14 and Bonnie Samuelson knocked down three 3-pointers for 13 points off the bench for Stanford (33-3), which had its streak of five consecutive Final Fours snapped last March. Allisha Gray scored 19 points for No. 4 seed North Carolina (27-10), which couldn't pull off a Final Four reunion with Sylvia Hatchell after the coach's season-long battle with leukemia.