Courtside for the championship game

I’ve been fortunate to cover the men’s basketball championship game four out of the past five years, but it’s different when you’re covering a hometown team.

Because of the magnitude of the story in the event of a win, I spent most of the day putting together what I probably will write if the University of Louisville pulls off the monumental upset of top-ranked and unbeaten Connecticut tonight.

And, too, for a game as big as this, you need to work ahead on what you write in the event of a loss.

I saw U of L players wandering through the mall at the St. Louis Union Station at various times today. Often, they passed a sporting goods store that had received, just today, a shipment of hats that say, “Louisville: 2009 NCAA Champions.” Of course, they have the same hat with Connecticut in the champions spot.

We all know which hat everyone expects to be on the shelves.

What needs to happen for U of L to pull off a historic upset:

1). A great start. I don’t think there’s any coming from behind against this UConn bunch. No one has all season. If U of L is going to get to UConn, it has to leverage the tremendous pressure that comes with being the unbeaten and overwhelming favorite. That means jumping to a four- to six-point lead out of the box, and maintaining it.

2). Angelic intervention. Angel McCoughtry needs to play the game of her life, and that’s saying something, because she has played some great ones. She hasn’t been a dominant player — far from it — during the NCAA Tournament, but she has to be tonight for U of L to have any chance.

3). Three-point stance. U of L made just six threes total in its two lopsided losses to UConn this season, while the Huskies made 19 in those games. That’s a 48-point disparity when the combined margin of victory was 67. Keeping the threes even — whether by perimeter defense, good shooting, or both — gets U of L two-thirds of the way to victory.

4). Dictate the tempo. U of L has done a good job of this for the entire tournament. Nobody really has been able to accomplish this much against UConn this season, yet it has to be the goal for the Cardinals. As coaches do, U of L coach Jeff Walz will break the game into segments, try to win a few, keep a few close, and be there at the end. It’s going to take a tremendously disciplined game for U of L to do that, something that’s tough with nine freshmen and sophomores.

But if they do those things, maybe that “Cards win” story will be dusted off in a couple of hours.

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