The Hardwood Blitz

As witnessed in the second half of the Cardinals win over Tennessee, this season's basketball squad is fueled by its defense.

When the game is over, everyone, media and fans alike, turns their attention to the box score to check how many points each player scored and how well they shot the ball. However, the more important and telling statistics usually can't be found in your daily news rag.

Saturday afternoon's 85-62 Louisville victory over visiting Tennessee provides the perfect example that character defining statistics are often not found in the standard box score.

If you were to simply scan the box score on the following day, you would quickly take note that Louisville had once again soundly defeated a solid opponent. You see the expected 20 points from standout wing man Francisco Garcia. You are once again impressed by freshman Tello Palacios' stat line, which includes 12 points and 5 rebounds. You move on to other news of the day, holding your head high, just as have in the past following a strong U of L performance.

However, what you may not see is the reason that the Cardinals won by such a convincing margin. You may not see that Rick Pitino's squad has now produced 35 runs of 8-0 or better this season, including nine of 13-0 or better.

On Saturday, with 19,926 watching on inside Freedom Hall, Louisville found itself trailing the visiting Volunteers 53-50 following a three-pointer by Chris Lofton, Kentucky's Mr. Basketball from a season ago, with just 13:17 remaining in the game.

"At that point we were playing bad and we needed to pick it up," said senior Otis George. "I came in with so much energy and we all just looked at each other and we knew we were going to have our run."

Following a 30 second timeout called by Louisville, the Cardinals Larry O'Bannon confidently drained a three-pointer to knot the game at 53-53. While the senior's basket appeared to be an answer to what could be a building Tennessee offensive burst, it would actually turn out to be the start of basketball's version of the blitz.

"There was a lot of time left and they had the lead, but the way we can shoot and the way we play defense, a lead doesn't mean much to us," said O'Bannon.

Over the following 11:34 the Cardinals would outscore the Vols 35-5. A jumper by Ellis Myles, followed by a layup by Garcia brought the soldout crowd to it's feet.

"We had yet to have our run and we talked about how we would have it, so I told them to be ready," Pitino said. "We expected our run to come and it did. It fed off of guys pressuring the ball really well."

With the home team holding a 62-55 lead, tying their largest margain of the game, UT's Lofton drove the lane with a determination reserved for these such moments. This was the moment the Cardinals victory was assured. Lofton attempted a running jumper, but as the ball bounced to the left, Lofton was there to grab the rebound and have a likely layup. As Lofton grabbed the ball with both hands above his head and started his spin towards the rim, Louisville's Brandon Jenkins stole the ball from behind and instantly looked up court. Otis George, playing in just his third game since missing weeks of action due to a stress facture in his foot, found himself on the offensive reward end of the play, rising for a thunderous dunk and his first points of the game.

"He turned the whole ball game around," O'Bannon said of George's play. "He gave the whole team energy. He's the reason that we separated from a close game to a 20-point lead. He does things that don't show up on the stat sheet, but he's a big factor."

After another George layup, Tennessee head coach Buzz Peterson needed and called a timeout. As the U of L players returned to their bench to receive more instruction from Rick Pitino, it did so with the backdrop of a standing ovation.

"Our defense picked up in the second half and Otis came in with a lot of energy," explained Ellis Myles. "We were able to get out on the break and the crowd got into it. After that we just fed off the crowd."

The defensive intensity with the group of Cardinals on the floor reached yet another level as the action resumed. Jenkins did his best pickpocket imitation on Lofton and then found George for another layup.

Over the next five minutes, which must have felt like an eternity to the players dressed in orange, the Cardinals wouldn't give an inch on the defensive end of the floor. Pitino's full court press was exhausting to Peterson's troops. George and Jenkins would each record yet another steal, leading to fast break baskets.

"B.J. was a major factor in it," said Pitino of the impressive second half play of the Cardinals. "Otis' defense was very active and it helped us to get some run outs."

The Cardinals could sense their opponents exhaustion and put the game out reach.

"I think they were just getting exhausted," George said. "We were pushing the ball and pressuring them. I think they just kind of wore down."

O'Bannon agreed.

"I guess they kind of ran out of gas and we just kept going and going."

The result of such pressure defense was shooting 68% from the field in the second half. It led to Louisville outscoring Tennessee 46-24 in the paint, as well as outdoing the Vols 15-6 in fast break points.

"When we're not giving up layups, we are pressing intelligently," explained Pitino.

Such breaks in the game are often labeled as 'runs' by fans of the sport, but in Louisville's case, it seems better defined as a blitz.

"We just keep getting better and better every day," said Garcia. "If we keep doing that, it's going to be very scary."

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