Cards saw no need to panic facing deficit

While Louisville fans might have been concerned Saturday afternoon when the Cardinals trailed West Virginia 38-18 during the first half of the Albuquerque Regional final at the Pit in New Mexico, the Final Four-bound Cardinals' saw no reason to panic.

While Louisville fans might have been concerned Saturday afternoon when the Cardinals trailed West Virginia 38-18 during the first half of the Albuquerque Regional final at the Pit, U of L senior guard Larry O'Bannon said he and his teammates saw no reason to panic.

After all, the 33-4 Cardinals have faced - and overcome - deficits all season long.

Remember the big win at Cincinnati when the Cardinals overcame a 17 point early deficit? That might have been topped by a late 14-0 run to close out Travis Diener and Marquette in Milwaukee after trailing by 11 with just five minutes to play. And who can forget the Cardinals rally at Memphis to erase a 10 point Tigers' lead in the second half to win 53-44?

But Saturday's comeback against the Mountaineers ranks at the top of list. Heck, the 93-85 overtime win might rank as the biggest, most improbable comeback in school history. With so much at stake - namely a spot in this weekend's Final Four in Saint Louis - who could argue?

"We just said we weren't going to panic," O'Bannon said after his 24 point performance that earned him the region's Most Valuable Player award. "We've been in big situations where we've been down before. We were down 17 at Cincinnati, and down 10 with five minutes to go at Marquette and came back. So we felt this one wasn't going to be any different."

With the Cardinals' 2-3 zone - normally a reliable defensive weapon for Rick Pitino's squad - torched by West Virginia's three-point shooting in the first half, the veteran coach knew he'd have to make some changes and play more aggressively on defense in the second half.

Larry O'Bannon was a big reason why
Louisville rallied to beat West Virginia to
advance to the Final Four for the first time
since 1986, scoring all 24 of his points
after halftime (AP).

"We had to play man," Pitino said. "We didn't want to because we're more banged up than I've wanted to say in public. This is the gutsiest performance I've seen since I've been a coach."

O'Bannon, who didn't score a point during the first half as the Cardinals' headed to the locker room down 13, said his team's switch from the zone to man was the key to their second half rally - and victory.

"I think our press kind of wore them down," O'Bannon said. "They were missing free throws and hitting the front rim in overtime. I think that was the difference today."

West Virginia's 6-11 forward, Kevin Pittsnogle, had high praise for Louisville after the Mountaineers heartbreaking overtime loss Saturday.

"They're a great team," Pittsnogle said. "They've proved it all year long that they can come back and win games. That's what good teams do."

Pitino could hardly believe what happened, either. In fact, the veteran coach who has now taken three different schools to the Final Four admitted after the game he fibbed to his team at halftime when he told them he was certain they'd come from behind to win the game in the second half.

"I've been involved in some incredible comebacks," said Pitino. "(But) none ever so satisfying or big as this one."

Making the story even more improbale were the numerous obstacles - besides West Virginia's 18-25 three-point shooting - the Cardinals had to overcome. Not Taquan Dean's ankle injury or leg cramps, not Ellis Myles' tendonitis, not Otis George's broken foot, and certainly not Francisco Garcia's five fouls could stop the Cardinals from reaching their destiny - the school's eigth Final Four.

However, Garcia says simply making it to the season's final weekend isn't enough for he and his tough-minded teammates.

"We just have to keep our heads straight - this is not our goal," Garcia said. "Our goal is to win the national championship."

Next up for the Cardinals is a date with No. 1 Illinois next Saturday in the national semifinals in Saint Louis.

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