Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cardinal's Virtue

By: William G. Muir
Something amazing happened last night, and I almost missed it. Well to be honest I missed the most amazing part of the amazing thing that happened. (Yeah I know that is probably to many amazing for the first paragraph but for goodness sake it was amazing.) The University of Louisville Cardinals Men's Basketball team made history last night, twice. The first bit of history they made was setting the record for biggest comeback in Big East Conference Tournament history by coming back from being down 15 points at half time to win the championship, 78-61. The previous record had been nine points when Louisville came back to beat Syracuse in the 2009 Big East Conference Tournament Championship game.

The second bit of history the Cardinals made last night was to win the very last Big East Conference (as we know it) Championship. Because college football is the cash cow that drives college athletics. The past several years has seen Universities and Colleges playing musical chair with conferences. Soon all that will be left a few megaconfences swelled up to 16 teams each controlling the fate of all college sports. This means one of the major conferences was going to be torn apart in this realignment. And since the Big East was formed as primarily as a basketball conference it was the one left without a chair when the music stopped.

Football killed the Big East.

It was conference realignment that started in the last decade that brought Louisville to the Big East in 2005. Their rich basketball history and their emergence as new powerhouse in the college football landscape dominated by traditional football behemoths made the Cardinals very desirable when the Big East need to plug holes left when Boston College and Virginia Tech abandoned ship for green pastures. Louisville's new found swagger helped assure the Big East would remain a member of the Bowl Championship Series. The system by which Division I college football determines its champions.

But enough of that, let us get back to what took place in Madison Square Gardens last night. Well actually it more like what happened in my home last night. As the clock crept closer to tip off time my mother, sister and I all gathered around the widescreen LCD TV set to see if our beloved Cardinals could win there second Big East Tournament title in a row and third over all. And there was good chance if Louisville won this game they would end up the number one number one when the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament field is announced later today. (Which would make this the second time the Cardinal have been the overall number since the NCAA Committee started ranking the number on seeds.)   

 The game started off about the way I thought it would. Syracuse (who is leaving the Big East at the end of this season to go join the A.C.C.) came out all fired up for their last ever Big East game. What a way to go out if they could pull off the victory over the number two seeded Cardinals. So the Orange were pumped with adrenaline, playing on emotion. But I knew emotion can only carry them for the first five to ten minutes of the game. After that they needed dig down and to what reserves they had left. I also knew that Syracuse had played one extra night this week (they only received the single round bye were as Louisville had earned a bye past the first two rounds.) What with the extra day and having gone into overtime the night before I was sure that Syracuse would be out of steam before the midway point of the first half.

Syracuse quickly jumped out to a eight point, but the Cards managed to narrow that lead at various points in the first ten minutes. But they couldn't quite get over the hump. Every time they made a move the Orange were there to move the goalpost back just a little bit farther. Admittedly it was not UofL finished ten minutes of basketball, Syracuse was all over them. They just kept on harassing the Cardinals. But at this point I wasn't worried; with all the energy Syracuse was exerting so far they only had a slight lead. The difference was still in single digits. Things were good.

As I watch the game clock reach the ten minute played mark I switched my expectation from this ok we are still in the game to now it is time for the Syracuse to run out of gas and for Louisville to hit the accelerator and cruise this one on home. But that did not happen! What did happen was that Syracuse, a team that had come into the Big East tournament, on a losing streak, had managed to win three games to get to this point and they were energized. While they were starting to make more of their shots and pull away from Louisville. The Cardinals just were not playing their game. They looked lost out on that court.

With under a minute left Syracuse hit another big bucket and looked like they were carry thr big M (momentum) through halftime, into the second half and home with the tournament trophy. It looked as if they were going to embarrass the Cardinals in this final Big East meeting. With just 22 seconds left in the first half I grabbed my kindle and left the room. Things did not look good. I couldn't stand to see my Cardinals go down in flames. UofL has a knack for letting games they should win turn into games they get humiliated in.      

So off I went to mess around on my laptop. I check to see if I had gotten any new  messages or notifications on Facebook. Then I check to see if any new videos had been posted by people I follow on Youtube. Why yes there is and it is just over 21 minutes, that should waste some time. After that I clicked on The Tony Kornheiser Show podcast and listened to that as I start back in on a 3D sketch of a medieval castle I am working on just for fun.

As I am sitting there trying to get one of the towers just right, I hear my mother or sister in the other room beginning to cheer. A minute or so goes by and there was some more cheering. I think to myself that Cards must have pulled themselves together and are making sure they don't get their rear-ends handed to them in the most embarrassing fashion ever.

Now I am don't recall which happened next. I either went over to to see what the score of the game was and how much time was left, or my sitter came in to tell me that Louisville was turning things around. Either way things were getting close and the second half was nearly half over. For the next four minutes I kept switching back between my sketching and seeing what the score was. Eventually Louisville finally took the lead for the first time. My sister told I should come and watch the game, I told her the Cards did better when I didn't watch.

With just five minutes left to go in the game, and the Cardinals now up by nine points I decided to chance it. Sure a couple three pointers, a couple key fouls and Syracuse could be right back in the game, but I was willing to take the risk. I wanted to see my Louisville Cardinals win the final Big East title (as we know it) and clinch a number one seed in the NCAA finals. I very well couldn't do that following the score on my laptop in a different room.

I walk in to see a game much different from the one I walked out on. The domineer of both teams had flipped around and done an 180 degree turn. Now the Cardinals were in the drivers seat, dictating the temple of the game. Something they had done all season long. And it was Syracuse that looked like they couldn't buy a basket. Syracuse had gone to the foul line several times after I reenter the room but they were having a difficult time getting any free throws to fall.

On the other end of the court the Cardinals were pulling away. They didn't hit every shot they put up, but they made the ones that count. The ones that hurt, the ones that shoved the dagger in just a little bit farther. And it was all thanks to freshmen forward Montrezl Harrell.He was throwing down dunks on one end of the court and then racing down to the other end to block a shot on a fast break. As they would say on the playground, this boy was unconscious.

Montrezl, who averages 5.7 points a game along with 3.7 rebounds, managed to scare a career high 20 points and pull down seven rebounds. Against Syracuse he matched up better than starting forward Chane Behanan, who sat most of the game and only manage to get 4 points and 3 rebounds. For his effort Montrel was named the player of the game. Congratulation Montrezl Harrell you sure did earn it.

Now after the game I thought more interview time should've  been given to the Montrezl, after all he stepped it up big time for the Cardinals, putting the team on his back and carrying them across the finish line. And to think he is only a freshman, he just shrugged off the big game pressure and put on his hard hat and came to work. Hopeful we will see him continue to improve so we can get more games like this from him over the next two or three years.

You can't fault the media for who they chose to talk to, senior point guard Peyton Siva. Not only did Siva manage to have a better game then the two previous ones against Syracuse earlier this season; Siva was named the Big East tournament Most Valuable Player. This makes the second year in a row that Peyton Siva earned the honor. With two back to back MVP awards Siva is in rare company. The only other Big East player to be named MVP of the tournament two years in a row was Patrick Ewing. A man that went on to have an impressive NBA career.

But before I go I would to address a post I saw left in a comment section. A fan (of who I do not know) was berating Syracuse for choking the game away. I have to disagree, to me choking a game away means that at some point you had the game put away and just gave up trying, thus allowing your opponent to get back in the game. Like I said earlier I missed 15 minutes of the game, but from what I saw it did not look like Syracuse gave up. And from what information I gathered Louisville played defense and managed to erase most of its deficit in less than two minutes. 

In no way did Syracuse lose this game. Louisville finally found their game and they were just to much for the Orange. On this night Louisville was the better team. Syracuse has nothing to be ashamed about. During this tournament they managed to get their season back on track after suffering some pretty hard looses and they made it to the championship game when very few would have given them a chance. Smart money would have told you this game should have been Louisville and Georgetown.

So good job Syracuse and good luck in the upcoming NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. hopeful our paths will not cross again until the Cards join you in the A.C.C. in 2014.

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