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In Business: Louisville 66, Pitt 53

How was my Monday? Not bad, both Heroes and The Hills were new, I had some ridiculously good enchiladas for dinner, and I had the peace of mind of knowing that I was just one day away from the release of the final season of Golden Girls on DVD. Anything else? Hmm, let's see, let's see...oh that's right, I watched the Louisville Cardinal men's basketball team dominate the fifth ranked team in the country for 40 minutes.

It was cool.

Indeed, the first chance for Cards fans to celebrate an enormous win by their basketball team since an elite 8 victory over West Virginia in 2005 came Monday night as Louisville pounded No. 5 Pitt 66-53 in The Steel City.

The loss was Pitt's worst since moving into the Petersen Events Center in 2002, where they had been 78-7. Their worst previous defeat there was 73-64 to Connecticut on Feb. 26, 2005, and they hadn't lost by double figures at home since an 81-67 defeat to Georgetown on Feb. 5, 2001.

In addition it was only the third time in 124 games under Dixon that Pitt was beaten by double digits.

While I thought we had a decent shot at pulling the stunner Monday night, if you would have told me that we would lead for almost the entire way in a game where we hit only four treys, I would have called you an adult diaper wearing astronaut.

The best defensive team team of the Pitno era beat the Big East's top dog in a manner very similar to the ones employed in their other seven conference wins.

Much of the Cardinals' success on defense Monday can be attributed to the fact that they successfully did what so few others have been able to do this season: neutralize Aaron Gray.

Gray, the Big East preseason player of the year, was held in check for most of the night by the tandem of David Padgett and Derrick Caracter. The duo frustrated Pitt's big man all night, and got him into foul trouble, forcing him to sit for much of the second half. Gray finished with 12 points in 26 minutes.

While Padgett and Caracter were getting the job done in the inside, the outside of Louisville's 2-3 zone was equally, if not more, effective. The perimeter defenders flew to the ball, got numerous deflections, and contested nearly every shot taken. The result was Pitt, a 42.6 percent three-point shooting team, hitting just 3-of-21 attempts from beyond the arc.

The Cardinals also displayed their most effective press of the season which played a large role in turning the Panthers over 15 times in the first-half, and 19 times overall. The early turnovers allowed Louisville to jump out to a 13-2 lead and quiet the usually rowdy "Oakland Zoo" student section.

Padgett (who I'd like to send a happy birthday out to) was the star on offense, scoring 16 points despite playing with a sprained left foot. Good things happened all night when the Cards got the ball into their leader. Padgett went hard at Gray, Kendall and company all night, but if it wasn't there he knew when to get the ball back out or look for a cutter, and as a result he finished the game with four assists and several of the always crucial "passes before the pass."

When Padgett needed a blow, Caracter was up to the task, scoring eight points including two on an electrifying spin move that drew the fourth foul on Gray. The oft-suspended Caracter delighted Louisville fans by playing with passion and enthusiasm, working hard for position in the post, sprinting back on defense, and at one point drawing a big offensive foul on LeVance Fields. The freshman also appeared visibly excited throughout the game when he was shown on the bench.

Though his performance is unlikely to garner him much attention in most media write-ups, Terrence Williams came up huge. Throughout the game he displayed the poise and maturity desperately needed for an excitable young squad to beat a veteran-laden team at their place. T-Will finished with 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting (he took just one three, and it was as the shot-clock was about to expire), he dished out a team-high seven assists, and grabbed four key rebounds including two where he sold out and ended up on his back.

This is the T-Will who can take us places. The guy who can beat his man off the dribble and then either find an open teammate or take it all the way for an easy deuce. The guy who's the only one on the floor with the good sense to pull the ball out when his team has a lead late in the game. The guy who effectively utilizes all aspects of his multi-dimensional game to bring a win home for his squad.

Dwayne Wade attempted just 44 three-pointers his senior year at Marquette. If someone hasn't shown that to Williams yet, they should.

T-Will, you can be a star without a consistent shot from beyond 20-feet. If you're in a rhythm and it's there, then go for it, but always have it be your third option.

One of those aforementioned excitable players is Edgar Sosa who, despite a few notable lapses, was excellent on Monday night. Sosa logged 32 minutes (second only to Williams) while handling the vast majority of the ball-handling duties against Pitt's stifling defense. The freshman ran the offense effectively for most of the night, and finished with nine points, including 4-of-4 from the free-throw line, a facet of his game where he's shown marked improvement.

Brandon Jenkins was fantastic on defense and also grabbed six big rebounds, but he made several head-scratching errors that you wouldn't expect out of the only scholarship senior on the team. He committed three backcourt fouls, including two which sent Fields to the line for a 1-and-1, and on three occasions in the second half he tried to force the issue on the break despite the fact that his team had a sizable lead and needed to milk the clock.

Still, Jenkins' overall contributions on the defensive end were key and vastly overlooked in the same way they have been all season. And perhaps some of his mistakes with the ball can be chalked up to him trying hard to maintain some of the scoring success he saw two days ago against South Florida.

Earl Clark continued his steller month by again proving to be an effective force in the paint, scoring seven points, grabbing six boards, and playing outstainding defense (with one exception) highlighted by two steals. E5's ability to finsish when he catches the ball on the block has also been extrmely refreshing for a team with an affinity for repeatedly clanking three-footers.

Juan Palacios hit four of the six shots he put up and finsihed with nine points. Although he again looked a bit overmatched when he tried to play down low, JDP did a good job of playing within himself and not trying to force the issue as he did at times in the Villanova and Georgetown losses.

Not only did Louisville's performance Monday night get them that much needed "signature win" for their NCAA Tournament resume, but it put them in prime position to grab a bye in the first-round of the Big East Tournament.

West Virginia went down at Georgetown meaning that the Cards are currently alone in fourth place and just a half game back of third place Marquette, who they play on Saturday. There are six teams in the conference with five league losses, including Villanova and Notre Dame who have a pretty favoriable stretch to end the season. Still, an 11-5 conference record (which seems extremely doable) will at worst get U of L into a tiebreak situation for the final bye.

But of course the biggest story here is what this win does for Louisville as far as NCAA Tournament implications are concerned. This win at Pitt does the same thing for U of L as West Virginia's home win over UCLA did for them. The Cards' moved into the NCAA-lock status of being a top four team in the Big East, their RPI immediately jumped almost 20 spots, and their resume improved more than a fourth-gade dropout who landed an internship at The New Yorker.

This is what happens when good coaches are paired with young talent. The team goes through frustrating slumps all the while steadily improving, and by the end of the season they emerge from their cocoon as a worthy adversary for all who face them.

If tomorrow were Selection Sunday Louisville would hear it's name called, and that's a hell of a statement considering the way things looked 40 days ago.

KEY STATS:

Field Goals
Louisville 26-53 (49.1%)
Pittsburgh 17-49 (34.7%)

Three-Point Field Goals
Louisville 4-11 (36.4%)
Pittsburgh 3-22 (13.6%)

Free-Throws
Louisville 10-18 (55.6%)
Pittsburgh 16-22 (72.7%)

Fouls
Louisville 21
Pittsburgh 21

Turnovers
Louisville 16
Pittsburgh 19

Rebounds
Louisville 33
Pittsburgh 34

QUOTABLE AND NOTABLE

Rick Pitino:

"We had to play Pitt, or someone like Pitt, because everybody is talking about signature wins and not paying attention to us. We think that when we go to DePaul and South Florida and win in the fashion we win they're great wins, but nobody else does. As I watched TV, I realized I shouldn't coach or play anymore because we don't even get mentioned. The writers don't even mention us for the NCAAs."

"I told the guys that if you want to dance [in the NCAAs], you've just had Christmas come early because you have to play Pitt -- and you have to beat them. And that's the hard part because they are a great team."

"He (Derrick Caracter) can really help us. He's buying into what we need."

"We just played great tonight. This is a great win on the road. We've executed defensively like at times, but not offensively. That's the best we looked."

Jamie Dixon:

"I didn't recognize that team. Some of the turnovers we were committing, I didn't recognize."

"Obviously, we're disappointed with the loss. It's not a good feeling right now."

Aaron Gray:

"[Padgett] played very well. He's a very good player. He came to play tonight. There are a lot of things we feel like we have to work on. How we played tonight is not indicative of this team. Maybe this was something we needed to show us how good we aren't."

"It was just a bad day. It's going to happen sometime. Maybe it's better it happened now rather than down the road. The true test is how we respond to this -- not what happened out there. I'm still very confident in this team and this coaching staff. I don't foresee this happening again."

Terrence Williams:

"We noticed that Marquette's athleticism got to them with their press, and they pressed the whole game. We knew we could have success if we pressed Pitt."

"We were just trying to prove everybody wrong. We wanted to come out and play our best."

OTHERS:

Early in the game ESPN broadcasted an approximately 10 second spell in which you could hear the announcing team talking during what was supposed to be a commercial break. The conversation entailed Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery talking about how Louisville, which led 8-2 at the time, was achieving success in large part because of their excellent spacing.

I for one was really excited to know that this team, probably my favorite world wide leader trio, actually talks about the game during breaks. It's a conversation that I just don't see Vitale and Patrick or Schulman having.

Also, if you're a Jay Bilas fan you might be happy to know that he was offered something, and though he rejected it he did say "thank you." I'm not sure what said item was, but I'm pretty sure Rick Majerus would have eaten it without displaying nearly as much verbal politeness.

On ESPN's College Gamenight Stacey Dales incorrectly listed Louisville's remaining schedule as games against Villanova, Notre Dame and Pitt. The Cardinals actually end the season with games against Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall and Connecticut.

Stacey gets a pass her because she, like Digger Phelps, said Louisville is in the NCAA Tournament with this win. Plus she looked hot while doing it.

How cool was it to see Coach Ellis Myles behind the bench all night and then giving words of encouragement to the team as they headed to the locker room at halftime? This guy could run for absolutely any position under absolutely any platform, and I would volunteer and work 20 hours a day to get him elected.

Louisville's eight-point home loss to Georgetown last Wednesday which crushed the spirits of much of Cardinal nation continues to not look so bad. The Hoyas destroyed West Virginia 71-53, making the Mountaineers the second top tier Big East team to get steamrolled by the Hoyas in as many games. Georgetown also beat Marquette by 18 on Saturday.

I'm just so happy.