Watching an ACC Network replay of Louisville’s January ‘09 come from behind W over then #1 Pitt in Freedom Hall, my mind meandered back to the day that roller coaster season drew its last breath at new Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indy’s been the situs of many Cardinal hoops moments, some to cherish, some not so much.
That day, despite it ending for me with a second delicioso meal at Shaprio’s, not so much.
But, looking back, it was fitting.
It had been the most cockamamie Cardinal campaign of the millennium. Ending with a whimper not a bang, given all we know now, was an appropriate denouement.
The end-of-regular-season AP #1 and top seeded U of L had battered Russ Pennell-coached Arizona two nights before like the Wildcats were Pikeville College in a November exhi. 103-64 was the final tally of the Cardinals’ 13th consecutive win.
As that emasculation unfolded, I recall thinking, “Save some for Sunday.”
* * * * *
The media room at Lucas Oil is cavernous. Literally.
Like you could fit five full size courts and a couple Mammoth Cave Snowball Dining Rooms inside, and still have room for the scribe snack line, featuring an NCAA tourney specialty, stale homemade chips.
After my obligatory pastrami sandwich around the corner from the arena, I sat in the still relatively free from activity media room, boning up on Sparty.
At some point, reality struck. “The Cards could easily lose this game. Izzo’s team is really good.”
What followed was a desultory, passion-less performance by U of L. Featuring the addition of Goran Suton to the list of bigs* who have vexed the Cards come tourney time through the years.
*Like Dave Corzine. (Sorry, Card fans, there’s bitter along with the sweet.)
* * * * *
That ‘08-’09 Cardinal squad was schizophrenic. Perhaps literally.
They lost to Western Ky’s Hilltoppers by 14 in Nashville. Lost at home to a run of the mill Vegas contingent. Then in mid January, beat three Top 20 schools — Villanova, Notre Dame and Pitt — in a row. But fell to UConn by 17 at home.
Then, in one of the hardest to figure out beatings in Louisville hoops history, that gang laid down in South Bend to Luke Harangody (32 points, 17 boards) and Notre Dame, 57-90. Thirty three points.
Which embarrassment occurred February 12. It proved to be the Cardinals’ last L before that fateful Sunday in Indy. Louisville massacred DePaul three days later, and reeled off 12 more victories before meeting Izzo and State.
* * * * *
It was just a strange collection of Cardinals, that team.
Terrence Williams was the alpha dog, and the only remaining member of his once heralded rookie class besides, ahem, Andre McGee. Bryan Harvey, the major catch of that recruitment if I recall, was gone after one season. Also taking their leave of the Ville were Chad Millard, Jonathon Huffman, and Brian Johnson.
So, in hindsight, what stability could fans expect from a team, whose two leaders were the emotionally weird Williams, and, ahem, McGee.
Earl Clark* led the team in scoring (14.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg). But there was an immaturity about his game, and I have always been of the belief that he would have blossomed if Rick Pitino had ratcheted back his tough love.
*Two things about E5. He did not lay down against Sparty, scoring 19 and grabbing 5 rebounds. And, so much did I love his game, that I named my new red and black Mini Cooper, “Earl.” Which was on both front and rear bumpers, using lettering from Ear x-Tacy bumper stickers, as was the fashion in the day.
Preston Knowles brought a lot of energy off the bench. But Samardo Samuels never seemed to truly mesh. Jerry Smith’s feud with TWill is now part of Cardinal lore.
And the highlight of Edgar Sosa’s career, other than that dagger trey against the Cats, was his freshman year and the 31 he showered on Texas A&M in a tourney L at Rupp. There appeared to also be a fragility to his emotions.
* * * * *
Plus there was the elephant residing in Pitino’s house, which we learned about shortly after that Michigan State defeat, the extortion attempt by the other participant of a one night tryst years before.
I recall how Pitino acted post-game in Dayton after the win over Siena to advance to the regional. He was strangely prickly, given the situation.
At the time, I thought it could have been because of a couple of questions from Bob Ryan, whom he might have had lingering resentments with from his stint with the Celtics.
But as we soon found out, The Rick had other things on his mind besides a quest for a national crown.
* * * * *
Anyway, not the fondest of my Cardinal basketball memories.
But it’s what came to mind the other night, as I watched the replay of that W over Jamie Dixon’s Panthers.
Watching the makeup of that team, I realize, despite that late season surge, I should have perceived that edition was destined to fail.
— c d kaplan