The same Louisville Cardinal basketball team that embarrassed itself by scoring just 49 points againt Kentucky a month and-a-half ago, the one that dropped two games to two middle of the pack Atlantic 10 teams, the one that Jeff Sagarin predicted a 13-17 record for just three weeks ago, that same Louisville Cardinal basketball team would be playing in the NCAA Tournament if it started tomorrow.
Oh yes, daddy's excited.
U of L erased a 14-point second-half deficit by scoring 26 of the game's final 31 points and topped a stunned Syracuse team 76-71, spoiling Jim Boeheim's 1000th game as a head coach.
The game was the last in a crucial five-game stretch for the Cardinals that saw them go 4-1 and play their way back into the NCAA Tournament picture.
"It's a heck of a win for us," Pitino said. "We're a young basketball team and we didn't rattle. We stayed with our poise. Nothing comes easy for us, but we keep working hard."
Trailing 65-51 with just under ten minutes to play, Louisville desperately needed a spark and got one when Juan "I'm playing like I'm wearing goggles again" Palacios re-entered the game (please bring 'em back).
The junior scored nine points, had three key passes, and was huge on defense as the Cardinals went on a 24-4 run. Palacios' most important play, however, may have been one that you won't find in the stat sheet (cliche, -1...damnit). Following a Will Scott miss with two and-a-half minutes to play, Palacios leapt out of bounds and tapped the ball to David Padgett who found a wide open Terrence Williams for a three that gave Louisville its first lead since the midway point in the first-half.
Palacios, who came into the game having scored 37 points in his last two games, failed to record a point or a rebound in the opening half, and as a result spent most of the first 10 minutes after the break on the bench.
"He was well rested for doing nothing in the first half," head coach Rick Pitino said of Palacios' late game heroics. "I just reminded him (Tello) he didn't have a rebound, wasn't playing defense and that basically his head was in Medellin. I said it in a very nice way."
Williams' three put the Cardinals up 70-69, and then after an empty trip for Syracuse, T-Will struck again drilling another trey to make it a two possession game.
"I've never made shots like that before in my life, so that's a big thing for me," Williams said. "Making the first one made the second one easier. I had already missed like 90 of them, but the key was I wasn't taking them three or four feet from behind the line like I was earlier."
Held in check for the majority of the game, Williams did his biggest damage while playing a position he's highly unaccustomed to; point guard.
Because of their height, starting point guard Edgar Sosa and reserve Andre McGee both had trouble getting the ball into the middle over the much taller front of Syracuse's 2-3 zone. As a result the vast majority of passing was being done on the perimeter, and the only passes to the middle were coming from either the wings or off the dribble. Seeing this, Pitino stuck the 6-5 Williams with the ball handling duties, and he was able to effectively get the ball into Palacios who could then score, dump the ball down to Padgett or find a shooter on the wing.
Pitino should also be praised for making the adjustment late in the game that got Palacios, whose mid-range game is far superior to Padgett's, the ball more consistently around the foul-line.
As impressive as the comeback was, it likely would have been impossible had it not been for the play of Sosa, who scored 13 points in the first-half to keep things close, and finished with a game-high 19. The freshman, a 64% free-throw shooter on the season, was also 6-of-7 from the charity stripe.
"Sosa was killing us," Boeheim said. "He was getting by and making plays the whole game. We did a good job finding Williams the whole game until the end and then he just got lose twice and made two big shots but really it was our offense the last seven minutes and our efforts on the boards. It wasn't good enough, that was the ball game."
Freshman Earl Clark gave yet another inspired performance, which likely played a large role in Palacios staying on the bench for as long as he did. He scored 10 points and gave some much needed help down low to Padgett, who finished with 12 points and was a rebound shy of a double-double.
"Earl is playing really good basketball right now," Pitino said. "And the good thing is, I said this all along, he is going to be a great one."
Even if you don't think he's going to be a "great one," there's no denying that the guy is just plain cool. He's the closest thing we have to Clooney in a Cardinal uniform, in that he could trip and hit the deck with no one around him at center court and I'd still be like, "Damn that was cool."
But of course the most fulfilling part of tonight's game had to be the "clutch" play of a certain insufferable, albeit highly talented, reserve guard for the Orange.
He finished the game with 18 points and nine boards, but when Syracuse needed an answer to Louisville's run, Eric Devendorf responded by throwing the ball away, dribbling the ball off his leg with no one near him, missing two free-throws, and of course your basic traveling violation.
There's nothing good about who you are or what you do
I've always been a big Jim Boeheim fan so kudos to him on becoming the 22nd coach in Division I history to coach 1,000 games, and the seventh to coach at least 1,000 games at the same school. But mostly kudos for having a hot wife who's from Kentucky.
The win lifts Louisville (15-6, 5-2) into a three-way tie with Marquette and Georgetown for second place in the Big East. For the record I'm willing to pay someone like 15 bucks if they can get the conference tournament to start Monday. I'm good for it.
The Cardinals return to action on Wednesday when they take on long time rival and current Big East doormat (bahahahaha) Cincinnati in the Queen City at 8 p.m.
Peace, love, Cards.