1. Earl Clark. Had this been an afternoon game with more time to interview and develop, I’d have had to focus on Earl Clark. The game’s key sequence came after Tennessee had cut its halftime deficit to one point. Enter Clark. In the next three minutes, he had nine points, two rebounds and blocked a Chris Lofton three-pointer.
“He was upset for me for the first few minutes, and then he got over it,” Pitino said of Clark. “I took him out and said ‘You’re going to set a turnover record here in Charlotte. I think Muggsy Bogues had seven or eight in one game, and I think you’re going to break it if you keep it up.’ Stop passing at his ankles. He’s a great guy. Earl is a tremendous young man. You know, I take him out and I don’t leave him out very long, no matter how many turnovers he makes.
Clark finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, made 7 of 10 shots from the field and blocked four shots. He also had two assists and two steals. After three turnovers in his first minutes of the game, he didn’t have another one
2. Terrence Williams does it all, again. This was a typical T-Will stat-stuffing performance, and the Cards needed it. 12 points, 8 rebounds, a couple of blocks, a steal and an assist. Williams was hard-nosed and, with few exceptions, made good decisions with the ball and was a big defensive presence. And, as usual, he was a go-to guy in the postgame locker room. His thoughts:
“You looked at the bottom of ESPN that the nation picked Tennessee by 70 percent. I hope we messed up a lot of people’s brackets. . . . Saying you got something to prove and actually proving it are two different things. . . . Before we started this game, coach told us it was going to be 40 hard minutes. Whether we got up 20 or down 20, we had to keep playing. . . . (On the no-look pass to Padgett) Whenever you can have fun in a game on the way to the Elite Eight, you’re playing winning basketball. I told DP to roll with me to the basket and I knew he’d be there. . . . I don’t get no harder than having to beat North Carolina in their place. It’s what you dream of. It’s like when you’re a kid and you dream of making the last second shot. And now that you’re in this position you can’t run from it or hide from it and be nervous. You’ve got to go out and play basketball. And I think we will, because we had to go at Pitt, at Marquette, at Georgetown.”
3. Big on the boards. The most important stat that won’t get talked about much from tonight’s game was rebounding. U of L simply obliterated Tennessee on the boards, 43-28. “We told our guys this game is going to be won on the backboard,” Pitino said. “They had 19 offensive rebounds against Memphis (they had 8 against U of L), and I said, whichever team outrebounds the other one is going to win this ballgame.”
4. Andre McGee: Little big man. This was probably the best overall game of Andre McGee’s career. I don’t know if you can see it as well on television as we could courtside just how much size he was giving up to Tennessee’s backcourt players. J.P. Prince is 6-7. McGee is 5-10. Think about having to try and operate against a player almost a foot taller. Yet McGee got to the rim for some points, and hit some big three-pointers, especially early, to get the Cards going in the right direction. On top of that, the Cards got almost nothing from Edgar Sosa, who committed five fouls in seven minutes, forcing McGee to play 32 minutes.
“This young man takes oxygen during the game, and he’s playing so many minutes,” Pitino said of McGee. “He’s working his tail off. He’s had a great year. An unheralded basketball player, but inch for inch and pound for pound, and I will say a lot of poundage, he’s one of the best point guards in the nation.”
5. Pitino owns Tennessee. Go ahead, look at his stock portfolio. I’m sure the state of Tennessee is in there somewhere. Or at least, the University of Tennessee. Pitino has won 14 straight over the Volunteers, dating back to his days at the University of Kentucky.
6. Defensive determination. Like rebounding, it’d be easy to pass over just how well U of L played defensively tonight. Don’t. UT’s two best three-point shooters went a combined 4 of 16. Chris Lofton went 2 for 11. Tennessee’s 60 points were its second-lowest point total of the season.
“We struggled all night long, and Louisville deserves a great deal of credit for that,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “I’ve been coaching a long time, and never has the tempo of the game been dictated so much by the opponent. We usually dictate tempo and we attacked the pressure and we had the opportunity, opportunity, to hurt the press, and we just didn’t finish. And that was a fact for us. Louisville did a good job of staying out on JaJuan and Chris and not giving them looks, and we didn’t take advantage.”
7. The pundits speak. Postgame thoughts of various ESPN talking heads:
BOB KNIGHT: The thing that impressed me most about Louisville was its defensive play. We were talking earlier, with Tennessee’s offensive strength the difference might be if Louisville could guard them. They guarded them pretty well in this ball game. I think Tennessee probably had as much trouble scoring as any team they played this year. I think that looks pretty good for Louisville going into a game against North Carolina, because they are going to have to be able to play defensively. A team that can’t reduce North Carolina’s offensive effectivenss to some degree is just not going to beat North Carolina.
DICK VITALE: You look at Louisville, you look at really a club that is really so deep. They have 7 guys that can score. He rotates a lot of bodies, they play so well together. Padgett passes the ball so well. Williams a great athlete in transition. They’re going to be trouble. When you talk about trouble, that Louisville game with North Carolina, that’s got the makings of a national championship game.
DIGGER PHELPS (who I thought nailed a couple of things): Tenne
ssee only got 9 points off of 14 Louisville turnovers first half. Carolina will take advantage of that. They’ll score a lot of points if they end up turning the ball over that much. But Edgar Sosa has got to play better than he did in this game, even though he won. He’s got to play big if they got any chance of matching up to North Carolina’s perimeter game.
8. I don’t say this all that often, but I thought Phelps was right on about Sosa. I think they need him badly against Ty Lawson. And, to be honest, they’re more likely to have him come out on fire after a game like tonight’s dismal performance. We’ll see.
9. U of L shot 76.7 percent (23 of 30) from the free throw line.
10. Derrick Caracter has been saying for a while that his games as a Cardinal are numbered. And he’s giving the Cards his best at the end.
“I’ve worked hard to get to this point and everybody on this team has,” Caracter said. “And I want to make my last games here something special, and try to show what I can do.”
Caracter had nine points and five rebounds last night, and played one of his best defensive games of the season.
11. Pitino drew on his experience from an old SEC rivalry in preparing for this game. But not UK’s rivalry with Tennessee. He said he told his players about the UK games against the big-time Arkansas teams.
“We talked before the game and I said, ‘Look, guys, you haven’t faced anybody like this this year. But I have, back in the ’90s at Kentucky when we used to play Arkansas with Nolan Richardson.’ They were that type of team where their hands are always in there grabbing at it, and I said, ‘You’ve got to be strong going back door. You can’t beat them coming to the ball. Same thing with the pressure. You’ve got to beat it north and south, not east and west.’ And I thought we did a tremendous job of going north and south in the second half.”
12. Williams said that Pitino told the team at halftime that it wasn’t being tough enough. “Pardon my language,” Williams said. “But at halftime, he called us a bunch of (anatomical pejorative indicating weakness).”
13. Sobering stats. Rick Pitino has never beaten North Carolina, with a career record of 0-3 versus the Tar Heels. The last time he faced them, UNC beat his UK team 74-61 in the 1995 Southeast Regional Finals to advance to the Final Four. North Carolina is 23-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in the state of North Carolina. U of L trails North Carolina 7-3 in its series history. Three of those meetings came in the NCAA Tournament. . . . Nate Johnson had 31 points and Marques Maybin had 20 in a 97-80 U of L win in the last meeting between the teams on Dec. 23, 1999.
14. The Cards’ 19-point victory was impressive, but it slightly drew down Pitino’s average winning margin in Sweet 16 games, if you can believe that. It was 20.1 points per game. Now it’s just a shade under 20 points per game. Slackers. (That’s sarcasm, folks. Please, no calls.)
15. U of L will meet the media at 1:30 tomorrow. I’ll be back with more blogs. This is one of the great days to cover a college basketball team, the day before a regional final. There’s plenty more to come.
16. Quotable. U of L’s Terrence Williams: “We have a Final Four poster from the 2005 year in our locker room, and before every game every one of us touches that poster before we go out to the court. It’s been hanging there since my freshman year. And we’ve fallen short. Now, it’s a reality check.”