Cards hold off Syracuse, 61-50

Louisville (21-6, 11-3) held off a late second half rally by Syracuse Monday night to down the Orange 61-50. The win, the Cards sixth straight, keeps Rick Pitino's team tied with Georgetown for first place in the Big East.

You might call University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino's pregame speech to his team colorful.

Well, actually, it focused mainly on one color - orange. The Cardinals had to rebound the orange (a.k.a. the basketball) to beat the Orange.

Message received.

UofL crushed the Syracuse Orange on the backboards on its way to a 61-50 win in front of an ESPN audience on Big Monday and 19,868 fans inside Freedom Hall. The victory allowed the Cards (21-6, 11-3) to keep pace with Georgetown in the Big East Conference race after the Hoyas (21-4, 11-3) beat Providence earlier in the evening.

"I told the guys, 'You have zero chance of winning if you rebound like you did against Providence," Pitino said.

UofL rebounded from a sub-par performance on the glass last Saturday against the Friars - in which Providence outrebounded the Cards 44-41 - to slam Syracuse on the glass, 53-35.

"There's no way we weren't going to come out (and win the rebounding battle) after that speech," junior guard Andre McGee said. "Everybody from the guards to the centers took that to heart."

But what if UofL would've lost the battle of the backboards?

"I'm glad we didn't, we would've got cussed out," junior forward Terrence Williams said. "Everybody thought we needed to step up to the challenge (and rebound). It just shows the maturity of this team."

Louisville was outstanding defensively against
Syracuse, holding the Orange to only
29 percent shooting. (Turbeville)

T-Will and McGee led Louisville with 12 points apiece. All of T-Will's points came in the final 15:23 for the Cards, who are ranked No. 18 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and No. 23 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25.

Arinze Onuaku scored a game-high 16 points for Syracuse (17-10, 7-7), while Paul Harris added 13 for the Orange, who are squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Both teams were as cold as the outdoor temperatures from the floor.

Syracuse shot just 29.1 percent (16 of 55), while the Cards weren't much better at 36.9 percent (24 of 65). UofL, though, took advantage of its rapid rebounding to outscore the Orange 19-10 in second-chance points.

"Obviously teams struggled to shoot the ball tonight," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I think the game just came down to offensive boards. They really did a great job on the boards and we didn't, that was the game."

The Cards made sure there weren't many second chances early.

UofL hit three of its first four shots - one by Earl Clark and two threes by McGee - to jump out to an 8-2 lead.

But then the Cards' shooting stroke when South. UofL hit one field goal over the next eight minutes as the Orange, one of the quickest teams in the country, used its penetration on offense and swift hands on defense for runs of 9-0 and 6-1 that gave Syracuse a 17-12 lead.

But the Cards - who were without David Padgett for the final 15:20 of the first half after he picked up two quick fouls - battled back.

"He's way too smart and way too old for that," Pitino said of Padgett's fouls, before adding, "he's 37."

UofL used a man-to-man defense and aggressiveness on the offensive backboards to rally. The Cards scored eight straight points, including four by Padgett's replacement Derrick Caracter, on second chances to take a 24-20 lead.

The Orange, though, evened the game by halftime (26-all) thanks to its free throw shooting. Syracuse was 13 of 17 from the foul line in the first half while the Cards, by comparison, were 3-for-4.

Both teams were frigid from the field in the first half. The Orange were just 6-for-25 for 24 percent, while UofL wasn't much better at 10 of 36 for 27.8 percent. And they were even worse from long range - Syracuse was 1-for-9 on threes (11.1 percent), while the Cards were 3 of 15 (20 percent).

Caracter led Louisville with seven first-half points, while Clark and McGee had six apiece.

Donte' Greene, Syracuse's 6-foot-11 freshman forward, led the Orange with nine points and eight rebounds.

Louisville scored the first seven points of the second half to lead 33-26. The Cards increased their lead to eight (39-31) a couple of minutes later before Syracuse's 8-2 surge brought the Orange within two, 41-39. But UofL answered with a 9-1 run that was capped off by a monster one-hand dunk by T-Will that caused Greene to duck for cover.

"Coach kept on telling us that they were more athletic than us and they could jump higher than us, so when I got the ball I had coach Pitino on my mind," Williams recalled afterward.

Syracuse stuck around, though. The Orange closed to within 52-50 on Onuaku's rebound basket with 2:23 to play.

But the Cards closed the game with a 9-0 run. T-Will hit a baseline jumper with two minutes left, then after a Clark steal, Jerry Smith tipped out a McGee miss and moments later McGee made amends with a three-pointer. Smith closed out the scoring with two breakaway dunks as the Cards shot 48.3 percent (14 of 29) in the second half.

"We're undefeated when we take less than nine challenged shots and we had eight tonight," Pitino said. "We did a better job in the second half, T- Will especially, of doing what Harris does for them, getting in the middle of the zone and taking open shots."

The Cards next play at Pittsburgh at noon Sunday.

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