Off the Brink? Huge win boosts Louisville

Louisville rebounded from a loss to St. John's with a signature victory Sunday at Syracuse - a win that boosted the Cardinals NCAA chances. Still needing a few more wins to secure an at-large bid, Louisville has two key games this week against Notre Dame and DePaul.


It has been a year Louisville coach Rick Pitino would just as soon forget, even with his team upsetting Syracuse to get a boost in its bid to reach the NCAA Tournament.

It began in the headlines, with him involved in a scandal that was lurid in detail and extremely embarrassing in nature, a huge distraction for himself and his team.

Then the season failed to materialize as he would have hoped, his chances at leading the Cardinals into the NCAA Tournament slipping further and further away, a stunning loss to St. John's on Feb. 11 helping matters not at all.

St. John's had lost five straight heading into the game that it won 74-55 in Madison Square Garden.

Pitino has been preaching that if his team could get to 11 Big East victories it would make it to the NCAA Tournament. With the loss to St. John's and the upset of Syracuse on Feb. 14, the Cardinals are 7-5 in the Big East and must win four of six down the stretch to reach 11.

They still must play Notre Dame, at DePaul, Georgetown, at Connecticut, at Marquette and close out the year with Syracuse coming to Freedom Hall for that building's final game.

As if all this weren't enough, Pitino's trip to New York was ruined even more with reports that he was being courted to coach the New Jersey Nets next season, leading to a strong denial from Pitino that he was engaged in conversations with the Nets.


-- Sometimes it isn't how many points you score, but when you score them. C Samardo Samuels scored only eight points against Syracuse but they all came during a late surge as the Cardinals took a huge step toward salvaging their season by beating Syracuse, 66-60.

-- Louisville held Syracuse's Wesley Johnson to just five field goals in 20 attempts and kept the normally accurate shooting Orangemen to 41.9 percent field goal shooting.

ON THE SPOT: G Jerry Smith's ability to score from the perimeter would really be helpful to Louisville.

It had been proven throughout his career as he hit 42 percent of his 3s coming into this season. That, however, has slipped and so have the Cardinals along with it.

The importance of him hitting 3s showed in the Rutgers game when he finally found his stroke and hit four for the first time this year since the opening game, but in the mysterious loss to St. John's Smith didn't even get a 3-point shot off.

He followed that up without scoring a field goal against Syracuse, missing both of his 3-point tries.

The importance of Smith hitting from the outside is that it opens up the inside for F Samardo Samuels.

"They're going to have to guard Samardo one-on-one and I don't think anybody can guard him one-on-one," G Edgar Sosa told the Louisville Courier-Journal.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's not an ounce of truth to it. I have no interest, period. I'm done with coaching professional basketball. I've put the professional ranks behind me." -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino, denying to rumors that he was talking to the New Jersey Nets about their head coaching job.


SEASON RECAP: Louisville has been a difficult team to figure since losing three of four early in the season at UNLV and at home to Charlotte and Western Carolina. Two other unexpected road losses, at Seton Hall and at St. John's, have left the road to the NCAA Tournament filled with potholes.

Louisville 70, Rutgers 60
St. John's 74, Louisville 55
Louisville 66, Syracuse 60
vs. Notre Dame, Wednesday, Feb. 17
at DePaul, Saturday, Feb. 20
vs. Georgetown, Tuesday, Feb. 23
at Connecticut, Sunday, Feb. 28
at Marquette, Tuesday, March 2

IN FOCUS: There is no longer any wiggle room in the schedule for Louisville, which is aiming to get to 11 Big East victories to make the NCAA Tournament. The road down the stretch is not as difficult as it could be, even with Syracuse coming to Louisville to close the season and eager for revenge. There are a couple of other dangerous home games with Notre Dame and Georgetown and a tricky road trip to UConn and Marquette to negotiate.

ROSTER REPORT: -- Coach Rick Pitino has a nice rotation going at forward. While Samardo Samuels is playing most of the time, he is starting Terrance Jennings at the other forward and then running Jared Swopshire in behind him. Against Syracuse, Swopshire and Samuels combined for 18 points, eight rebounds, four of them offensive, and three blocks.

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