It is mid February. There are but a handful of conference games left before league tourneys, then the Big Dance.
It is time when legit contenders start to show their steel, when those with true mettle reveal themselves.
Like, for instance, Kansas, which put its grapefruits on display last evening, with an amazing last minutes comeback against West Virginia.
So too, arguably, the Louisville Cardinals, who overcame some serious gaffes, who overcame some most often fatal lapses of fortitude, to survive, summoning a huge league W on the road against Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orange.
The Cards prevailed despite the disqualification of their best baller Donovan Mitchell, with the game still in the balance.
The Cards prevailed despite woeful 16/30 inaccuracy at the free throw line.
The Cards prevailed despite committing more turnovers (15) than assists harvested (13).
The Cards prevailed despite blowing a 14 point lead (28-14) in the first half, giving up a 1-11 run before intermission.
The Cards prevailed despite blowing a 7 point lead (55-48) with 2:02 to play in regulation.
The Cards prevailed despite falling behind twice early in OT, then forging ahead by 7 (73-66) with :34 to play in extra time, then giving away all but two points of that advantage with an Orange player at the line for two shots with :02.7 on the clock.
The Cards prevailed despite an absolutely ridiculous foul by the team's most mature player on a 'Cuse trey attempt with :13.4 to go in OT.
The Cards prevailed despite what could have been a fatal turnover by its normally rock steady PG with a few ticks more than a minute to go in regulation.
The Cards prevailed despite some gagging late at the FT line, and despite some seriously misguided shot attempts at crunch time.
The Cards prevailed despite the Syracuse zone which pushed U of L's offense toward mid court the whole evening, and prevented passes to any Cardinals who might be cutting to the hoop when there was penetration.
The Cards prevailed despite the no quit effort by a Syracuse team that really really really needed the W to hope to be handed a Dance card.
The Cards prevailed.
Before the Great Hoops God Naismithius changes his mind, de-ice the wings on that charter, and get off the ground at Hancock International before the authorities say the runways are too snow covered for takeoff.
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Do we bring up the descriptor "character" for the second game in a row?
I'm not sure.
What I do know is I have oh so many times seen Cardinal teams lose this game.
But this Cardinal team endured all its miscues and miscalculations. This Cardinal team won despite doing its best to fumble it away.
Winners find a way to triumph.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into this by the hair on their chinny chin chin road W. But I thought, all things considered, it was huge.
* * * * *
Forgive the reference to a baller from that school down the road, but at one point during the game early, when Jaylen Johnson kind of tossed the ball toward the rim, I jotted down in my notes, "Slam it like Bam."
And so JJ did not once but twice late. On a follow of a missed David Levitch trey. On a precise high/low feed from Anas Mahmoud. Both one handed.
And so did Donovan Mitchell not once but twice. Both one handed. Once with such stylistic ferocity that the 'Cuse bench reacted with wonder.
* * * * *
Ray Spalding, who has been passive on the court for the last few weeks -- to say the least -- made the biggest defensive play of the night.
Louisville's best FT shooter Deng Adel had failed to convert either of two charity tosses with the score knotted at 58 with :16 to play in regulation. With a golden opportunity to steal the win, Syracuse's John Gillon drove to the hoop.
But Spalding, with his long reach, forced a turnover.
He also grabbed 5 rebounds and had a steal.
Anas Mahmoud, also MIA recently, returned to relevancy with aggression.
12 points. 8 rebounds. 3 blocks. 2 steals.
Jaylen Johnson also flexed some muscle.
Four of his 7 boards came off the offensive glass. 10 emphatic points.
Q started hot, and finished with 14. Five of his 6 assists came after the break.
Mitchell led the Cards with 16, before fouling out. Adel scored 11 but coughed it up 5 times.
Louisville had 15 offensive rebounds, outscoring the Orange 18-9 on second chance scores.
* * * * *
No, I'm not going to leave without mentioning Dickie V's favorite Cardinal recruit, Ryan McMahon.
He was up to the moment.
His three in OT was big, because it was an immediate answer for an Orange triple. His follow shot was his first deuce of the season. His two FTs at the end sealed the deal.
* * * * *
It gets no easier from here.
Next up: Feisty Virginia Tech, a team that knows how to beat UVa.
-- Seedy K