Another tremendous defensive effort led Louisville to its ninth straight victory, and its first win over Villanova since joining the Big East. But Saturday won't be remembered as the day the Cards snatched win No. 24, or the day Jerry Smith notched a double-double (sorry Jerry...that was cool too). It will be remembered as the day all of us were forced to say a partial goodbye to three Cardinals who each embodied the best of college basketball.
For the sake of out-of-towners, here's what each of the three seniors had to say to the crowd after the game.
"First of all, I want to thank God for everything he's done throughout my life. Second of all, I want to thank my mom, who - thanks to my wonderful coach and my great family, that's my teammates - she was able to be here, so thank God for that too. And a person with which I spent a lot of time: Fred Hina, my trainer. Thank you so much for all the time we spent together. And, you know when I first came to the United States and came to college, I was away from my family, but being with these fans - which, I think we have the best fans in the world - I felt like I was at home. Thank you so much. I love you all."
"Thank you ch- yeah, I'm mixing up all my words, sorry. I'm trying to say too many things at one time. Being here all four of my years, of course the first year I wasn't sure if I was gonna make it, being in coach P's dog house and everything. But my team stuck it out with me, and it was great to come back. It was just a freath of, a freath of bresh (laughter), a breath of fresh air (applause). Thank you. First and foremost, I'd like to thank God for letting me be here. My family over there in the corner, my mom and my great (inaudible) evil twins you know. They're always over there every game. Everybody I'm sure they notice them every game, they're loud. Last but not least, I'd like to thank my teammates, without them I wouldn't be here in front of you all, you know. I'd like to thank last, the fans. I'd definitely say that this has been the greatest gift ever, to be able to play for one of the best coaches in history, and I feel blessed. Thank you. I love you all."
"Back in November when coach called me into his office and told me that I was hurt again, the only thing that I wanted was a chance to be out here playing on this court tonight in front of the best fans in college basketball, and I just wanted to thank you guys first. First, besides you guys, the people I need to thank most are my parents. My grandparents are here, my aunt and uncle and my sister. My biggest fans in the world, I wouldn't be here without you guys. Secondly, coach Pitino for always believing in me, giving me a chance after I took the wrong road coming out of high school. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out where you need to be, but this has been the best four years of my life. And my teammates. And two people who probably don't get enough credit for anything are our weight coach, coach Sheehan, and for me especially, Fred, because without him I wouldn't have been back as fast as I was. And on top of that, one person who gave me a second chance to play basketball two years ago was Dr. Scott. I don't know if he's here, but he gets just as much thanks as anybody. All the people that have helped me through the four years; all the assistant coaches, we've had a million of them. Carmichaels, my girlfriend Megan, everybody, thank you guys. Thank you for the best four years of my life. Thank you."
It was certainly an emotional day at the Hall, but one that I think left the fans with more of a collective feeling of happiness than sadness, partly because the team won, and partly because this wasn't an unequivocal finale. They may never hear Sean Moth's voice call their name after a made basket again, but this group's business in a Louisville uniform is far from finished.
So now here we are: the first full week of March, the opening rounds of the first batch of conference tournaments, and a little game on Saturday for a Big East championship.
It's a hell of a week to be a Louisville basketball fan.