Which Way Now?

<B>Commentary</b> Did Francisco Garcia's game winning 3-pointer against Marquette on Thursday night ignite the Cardinals back to their winning ways and among the nation's best?

Tell me if you have heard this before...

The University of Louisville basketball team gets off to a blazing start, racing up the polls and into the top ten, just to see the season run into a virtual brick wall and come to an aburpt and disappointing end.

Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Due to the recent two game skid and the bad taste of the disappointing finishes to the last two seasons still lingering, many U of L fans had growing concern for the remainder of the current season.

The Cardinals appeared tired and somewhat careless in their embarrasing home loss to Memphis and then not much better in the ugly 65-57 win over South Florida on Sunday.

"That's behind us," senior Larry O'Bannon said of last week's disappointing play. "The main thing is we have to get back to playing as a team."

On Thursday night, the team once again seemed to have the swagger that was present during their impressive nine game winning streak. They appeared to be energized on both of the ends in a manner similar to what helped push the team into the top ten. Just as O'Bannon suggested, the Cardinals seemed to be playing more as a team again.

Problem is, we've seen this before.

Just two seasons ago, behind the play of senior point guard Reece Gaines, Louisville raced out to an 18-1 start. However, in mid-February, the Cardinals hit that brick wall, playing poorly and losing at St. Louis. Just days later the 2nd-ranked Cardinals visited Milwaukee to face No.11 Marquette.

With 6 seconds remaining in the game, Reece Gaines drilled a long distace three-pointer to give the Cardinals a thrilling 73-70 victory.

Most were quick to believe that the poor play at St. Louis days earlier was simply an aberration and not a signal of what was to come.

With a difficult remaining schedule the Cardinals finished that season with a 2-4 mark in their last six games. After winning the Conference USA Tournament, held in Freedom Hall, Louisville's season ended quickly, as the Cards fell to Butler in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Now fast forward to this season.

Once again, the Cardinals were coming off a poor performance, heading into an important game at Marquette. Once again, the team's leader drained a three-pointer to claim a Louisville victory.

Now the question looms, which way now?

Will this team suffer the same fate as the 2002-03 Reece Gaines led Cardinals or has the team rebounded from their struggles just in time to make a strong push for the Final Four in St. Louis?

I'm guessing the later is the more likely outcome. Unlike the team of two years ago, this U of L squad has plenty of experience and most importantly, multiple offensive threats, as all five starters average more than 10 points an outing.

Rick Pitino's decision to give the players two days off earlier in the week may have been exactly what was needed. This team just needed the rest and while they didn't play as well as they were just two weeks ago, they did have moments during their 64-61 win that looked like they had returned to form.

This Sunday, when Louisville hosts C-USA foe St. Louis, the team should be back to near true form and win easily. Remaining road games at Memphis and DePaul, as well as a home contest against No.23 Charlotte, will give the Cardinals a fierce test each night.

While it will be a tall task for the Cardinals to win the remainer of the games prior to the start of the Conference USA Tournament in Memphis, they will be plenty ready for a late round run into March Madness.

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