Morning After: Cardinals squeeze Orange

Now, this is a fun morning after to put together. The Cardinals went into the Carrier Dome and squeezed the Orange just enough to escape with a 58-53 victory in a key Big East Conference game on Saturday. Cardinal Authority has a look at some key points from the game that made the Cardinals 24-5 on the season.

1. One last time, Hancock comes through: Just smile a second if you are one of the fans who gave up on Luke Hancock? And I know there are plenty. From all of the emails, message board posts and Twitter bashing of Hancock throughout the season, I know there are not many folks who stayed in his corner. It's crazy when you look at it now how correct U of L coach Rick Pitino has been from the start about Hancock. He's not the most physically gifted player on the team but he's just so solid and it's really starting to show. His three-pointers were huge but two plays on the defensive end were just as big – if not bigger – in the Syracuse win. He's hitting 40 percent from three-point range in league games and is getting more and more confident. Oh, and he's still not 100 percent healthy. Bottom line, Hancock is a good kid who has worked his tail off to get to this point despite the bad shoulder. He's a team player and won't mind if you jump back in his corner!

2. Kevin Ware takes another step forward: Kevin Ware was a point guard in high school and played there in AAU ball. But when he came to Louisville, Ware was moved off the ball. Well, that changed a month ago and on Saturday you saw why coach Pitino made that change. Peyton Siva was struggling. He couldn't hit from the outside and his confidence was shot, but the Cardinals needed a lift. So, Pitino went with Ware and he delivered at the point spot. Ware had eight points – two big three-pointers – and made some huge defensive plays. He's taller than Siva and his height and length really helped against Syracuse's taller guards. Pitino went with Ware and Russ Smith at the guard spots down the stretch, showing that he not only likes Ware at that position but also has the confidence to put him in the game. Ware has come a long, long way in a month and his continued improvement can be a major boost for the Cardinals down the stretch.

3. Siva struggles against the Orange: Peyton Siva has struggled in two games against Syracuse, going 0-for-9 from the field on Saturday and making him 1-for-18 in two games this season against the Orange. Several of his second-half attempts looked off from the time he was setting up to shoot. He lost his confidence and Pitino used Ware down the stretch. But a huge key was Siva stayed engaged on the bench, was the biggest cheerleader and actually came back in the game in the final seconds for a huge inbounds play. Other than missing shots, Siva wasn't bad. He had four assists and was solid on defense. Pitino said he doesn't like to go away from Siva because he has "so much confidence" in his senior leader. But he did in this game and it worked. Pitino also told a story about Billy Donovan – his former point guard he has compared Siva to – and his struggles against one team – Syracuse.

4. Cards are getting better and better: Pitino always likes to have his teams playing the best ball in March. Well, it's March! U of L has won eight of nine games since losing three in a row and the lone loss was the five-overtime game at Notre Dame. Pitino said the best way to get over that five OT game was to win the final seven games of the season. The Cards have five down and two left with Cincinnati at home on Monday and Notre Dame on Saturday. U of L is still right in the thick of the Big East Conference race and should move up several spots in both of the polls. Even if the Cardinals don't win the Big East title, Pitino has them set up for another strong run through March and – hopefully – into April!

5. A few leftovers: Pitino noted after the game that the Cardinals "still haven't had a bad game," this season. It's true and scary. The loss to Duke was close, the Cardinals could have won all three games in the middle of the season they lost – Villanova, Syracuse and Georgetown – and then there's the five OT game. It's been a solid season to this point. . . . Junior center Gorgui Dieng's solid game was overshadowed by Hancock's late heroics. Dieng had 11 points and 14 rebounds. . . . The Cardinals won with Siva, Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan combining to go 2-for-21 from the field. Behanan did a nice job on the boards. . . . Another game with serviceable minutes from Stephan Van Treese. . . . The Cards get a short turn around and play Cincinnati on Monday. The KFC Yum Center should be rocking.

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