Walking out of McCamish Pavilion with a victory over Georgia Tech wasn't the only significant thing about Louisville's first game since the dismissal of Chris Jones. Right now it sort of feels that way, though, and that's okay.
Despite all the off-court distractions, despite losing a player who had accounted for 30 percent of the team's assist total and 20 percent of its scoring, despite all the inescapable chatter, despite all of that -- Louisville managed to win a basketball game Monday night. Maybe the significance of the evening starts and stops right there, or maybe it winds up being the genesis of something really enjoyable. No one knows right now, but there are a few things I do know about U of L's 22nd victory.
I know that for the final 8 minutes of the game, the Cardinals finally looked like the team we've all been wanting to cheer for since November. They scrapped for loose balls, they cheered loudly on the bench, they smiled, they played like they were happy to be playing, and hey, they made some shots. It was beautiful, and if it can spawn a 40-minute performance of the same variety, it will be special.
I know that this, oddly, feels like one of, if not the most satisfying victories of the season. Georgia Tech is one of the worst teams in the ACC and they didn't give a particularly inspiring effort on Saturday, so why can't I stop smiling? Why can't Rick Pitino stop gushing about the win? Why do the players sound more confident than they have at any point since December?
I know that this kind of feels like the old times -- not the point total or the shooting woes, but just the overall pleasure that was derived from the victory. Terry taking over, Wayne stepping up huge with the game on the line, Montrezl getting credit for the decision to keep Nanu on the court, the Louisville fans drowning out the Tech fans on their home court; it all felt like the good vibe stuff of the last four years that has been so absent.
I know that the team seemed closer at the end of this game than they have all season. There was communication instead of bickering. There was smiling instead of pouting. There was standing instead of sitting.
To be clear, I don't think is all the magical result of taking Chris Jones out of the equation. I think it's the product of the team figuring out how to piece back together the broken result of Chris Jones being taken out equation ... and all the other issues that this entire situation has caused. The team knows what people are saying about them, the team knows that some of its own fans are wondering if it's going to fall apart, and the team knows that it has two options: rally together immediately or prove all these skeptics right.
Louisville didn't give a performance on Monday that would make anyone believe they're capable of making a run to the Final Four, or even the tournament's second weekend for that matter. What they did do was remind us all of an old message.
"Some people panic. We don't panic at Louisville. We're judged in March." --Rick Pitino— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 26, 2013
Louisville didn't impress any objective college basketball fans by beating Georgia Tech, but they did communicate to the folks who care about them the most that this new season has the potential to build on the legacy of the "era of good feelings." For tonight, that's enough.