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Louisville 71, Marquette 51

I'm smiling.

A one-point win last night would made a pretty large statement to the nation that Louisville is back; a 20-point win is a shout in the face. It is a little disappointing that the game was on at the same time as UT/Vandy, but - assuming Dom James is OK - Marquette is going to win its fair share of games from here on out, and last night's win is going to stand out come March, even to those people who didn't see it live.

What this team is doing defensively right now is mind-blowing. West Virginia shot 48% in a 79-64 win over Marquette, and then came into Freedom Hall and shot 41% in a 63-54 loss. Marquette had just shot 47% and hung 92 on Notre Dame before shooting 31% and scoring 51 points last night.

All of our guards (hey Edgar) and wings in the back of the zone did a tremendous job defending the perimeter, but what I was even more impressed with was our big guys' ability to prevent three of the better penetrating guards in the country from getting to the basket. Every time James, McNeal or Matthews pump faked and drove to the basket, there was somebody there in the lane or standing on the baseline to cut them off...with one exception (sorry Derrick). McNeal and Matthews earned every point they scored around the bucket, because they all came on shots that were contested and altered.

After the game, Pitino made an interesting point about why this team has become more successful on the defensive end. He said that guys like Caracter and Clark, who knew they were going to play 30-35 minutes each game in December, weren't taking the scouting report seriously. But now that Padgett and Palacios - who devour scouting reports - are back and they're competing for playing time, the sophomores have no choice but to be as prepared as possible.

If you don't love David Padgett, you don't love Louisville basketball. It's not debatable.

If you'd listened close enough during the starting lineups last night, I think you would have been able to hear a noticeable clicking sound when they announced Edgar Sosa's name. This was what we've all been waiting for, the miraculous "getting it" that didn't seem like it was going to come until - at the earliest - next season.

Folks on the radio and the internet have been saying that his game has been steadily improving the last few weeks. To be blunt, I hadn't seen it. I thought he looked every bit as rattled and selfish against Rutgers as he did against Carleton. Then just like that he's running the offense, dropping dimes to Padgett and taking only two shots (both open and in rhythm) in the first half.

He finished the game with three assists, but he made at least four more passes that led to either two shots from the line or an initially blown lay-up that was put back in. And then of course there's the matter of how many times we scored on possessions where Edgar resisted the urge to jack up a contested three or force something in the lane. We need this kid so much, and his play last night has made the cause for my happiness extend far beyond a mere 20-point win over the No. 13 team in the country.

So after two and-a-half months, has Bad Edgar finally left the building? Well, Sos did turn 20 on Tuesday, maybe maturity is just a number.

Great, great, great game.

The last two games I've applauded T-Will's play and made it a point to say I wasn't doing so just because he wasn't scoring. Well now it's time to applaud T-Will's play and say that it's not just because he did score.

He's really let the game come to him ever since the loss to Cincinnati, and whether he's scored three points or 20 points, the end result has been the same: his team has won.

Williams is no longer pressing the issue. He's looking for the open man, then looking to take the ball to the rack, then looking for an open jumper. And if he has an open look, he's staying vertical and not falling away.

Then of course there's the defense, the rebounding, and the fact that he's been on the floor for 190 of the last 200 minutes Louisville has played. The kid is taking his game to another level and so is his team.

Last night's game exemplified why I love Jerry Smith. His outside shot wasn't falling and a more athletic defender - Dom James - was eliminating his ability to get to the bucket. So what does he do? Leads the team in assists, snatches six rebounds, makes a pair of steals, and continues to bring the same defensive intensity he has all season.

Winning teams in any sport always have players like this on their team, and we're extremely lucky to have a guy like Smith.

Great crowd for the second game in a row. Whether you admit it or not, it has an effect.

The only player forcing the issue a bit last night was Earl Clark, who finished the game with five turnovers and only three rebounds. Could have been because it was his birthday, or it could have been because he sees his stats shrinking and wants to put an end to it. Whatever it is, I wouldn't bet on it being a lingering issue.

Clark's a team guy, and even though he - like anyone - seems visibly upset when he's taken out of a ballgame, it never lasts too long. I watched him look especially angry when Palacios came in at one point late in the first half, and then 30 seconds later after a made basket I saw him standing, smiling and clapping on the bench.

I was on TV. No big deal. Been there before. Interviewed by Fox Sports Net for their high school baseball Game of the Week my senior year. Accidentally started to drop the F bomb. Never saw the game coverage. Hope they edited it out.

Jerel McNeal whines a lot. It's not flattering.

I really hope that Dominic James is all right, because he certainly looked to be in a great deal of pain. And what was up with him rolling around on the ground for like 25 seconds before anyone from Marquette came over to check on him?

Apparently some Golden Eagle fans were upset that the Louisville crowd was booing while he was hurt. I, for one, booed because there wasn't anything remotely close to a foul on the play, and then stopped when I saw that James was staying down.

At least we didn't accuse him of faking (so obvious, but you have no choice but to take it there).

Though I sincerely appreciate his extreme generosity in supplying me with an excellent seat for the game, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the young man sitting to my right's - he goes by the name of "Dan" around these parts - Buckner-esque ball-toss drop. It came when the cheerleaders were tossing those little red balls near the end of the game, and while I didn't make any effort to obtain a round keepsake, my long-armed friend saw an opportunity and went for it. The ball hit him right in the hand and then fell to the ground.

If the story had ended there it probably would not have warranted mention on this blog (OK, something still would have been said), but the now humiliated "Dan" had the audacity to describe the action as a "block/save" to his mother, who ended up with the ball. I would say "whatever helps you sleep at night," but I guarantee that "Dan" has already replayed the event in his mind at least 30 times, and that it will haunt him until he finally successfully snags an airborne souvenir.

You're a disgrace.

Very happy to see Preston Knowles stick a jumper fresh off the bench. You could tell he was looking to pass first, but when every defender left him he had no choice but to shoot, and the rest is extremely obscure history.

Only because they haven't been mentioned and they deserve to be: kudos to Derrick Caracter, JDP, and Andre McGee on great games. And big ups (I said it) to DC on his continued improvement from the stripe, which was especially refreshing on a night where we were so dismal otherwise from the line.

Now it's on to Gonzo and Seton Hall. I've been extremely nervous about this game for a while, and I'm not just saying that because I'm reluctant to completely accept that this team has become what we thought they were going to be. U of L is winning with defense, and while they'd just as soon not run down to the other end of the floor after a made basket, Harvey and Laing are going to score on anybody. The Cards are going to have to shoot well to win this game, and even against a team that's as uncommitted to defense as any this side of VMI, that could be a problem.

BUT, after what we saw last night, you have to think that this team is going to be just as prepared and motivated on Saturday night. This is a completely different squad than the one that fell to Purdue or even the one that beat UNLV. The look is different, the effort is higher, the energy is significantly more positive, and there's no reason to believe right now that any of the issues that plagued the first two months of the season are going to rear their heads again.

I'm trying hard not to get overly excited, but like just about any other fight, it's probably one that I'm not going to win.