Home is a usually a place that can put an exclamation point on a surging team or can mend a broken spirit and rekindle the flames to victory. Louisville (19-5, 9-4 in C-USA) was afforded neither in the loss to Marquette (21-4, 11-2 in C-USA) on Wednesday. Marquette, after being dominated for much of the first frame, came back and picked up their second straight Freedom Hall victory in handing the Cards their second straight loss at home. In fact, in hindsight if the Cards could have walked away with only a loss, things would not seem so bleak. No time to fret however as Saturdays match up has ECU in town and they are sure to smell blood.
In a week that started with a rough and tumble 101-80 drubbing at the hands of Cincinnati just three days after losing their first of the season at home to Memphis 80-73, the Cardinals were glad to be coming home. Marquette was coming to town and keyed for vengeance from a nail biting Cardinal victory over Marquette in Milwaukee less than two weeks earlier.
Louisville, stinging bitterly from the Cincinnati loss, came out strong in the first, nailing shots, playing tenacious defense the same fashion that helped them to a lofty 18-1 record and giving Marquette more than they could handle. Freshman Francisco Garcia led the onslaught that saw the Cards build a 19 point lead. Garcia hit 5 straight triples in route to a team high 24 but never got on track in the second half as the Marquette defense seldom lost track of him.
After a surge by the Eagles in the last 4 minutes of the first left the Cards with a 10-point led, the crowd grew concerned and along with the ESPN2 audience watched Marquette super-star and player of the year finalist Dwyane Wade take over in the second half and take the lead for the first time 63-61 with 9:46 remaining. Marquette fought to the end for an amazing 24-point turnaround for the win. But that was surely not the worst of it.
Despite shooting 29% in the second half, and hitting a miserable 50% from the charity stripe, Junior forward Ellis Myles, near single handedly, kept the game close as the Cards clanged shot after shot off the rim. Then the bottom really dropped out as 19,000 plus went cathedral quiet after top rebounder and team leader Myles went down in obvious agony with injury. His condition was announced in a Friday afternoon athletic department news release that confirmed it as a season ending injury to the patella tendon in his right knee and will be out of action for six months.
Myles untimely injury is another chapter in the late season Cardinal saga and as the NCAA continues its oddly timed probe into big man Marvin Stones relationship with Alabama businessman Mark Komara and Stones AAU playing days. The situation has gotten far enough out of hand that Pitino has become openly vocal. ''I'm disappointed with the whole situation,'' he said. ''I'm a big believer in the NCAA and its principles, but I can tell you that this is as low as I've been. I don't know what's done in high school or AAU basketball, but I do know that this team has worked very hard for three months to get to a situation, and this is not right. I don't agree with it.
''I don't know what's going on. I'm not privy to all the discussions. But I can tell you this, if you want to clean it up, it's all or nothing. . . . If not for AAU basketball coaches helping out kids, there would not be a Final Four. There would not be an NCAA Tournament. So yes, I believe in cleaning up everything that's wrong with our game, but you can't do this to a basketball team.
''I'm extremely disappointed, because we are the NCAA. It's an awful situation. It's very disruptive.''
After the game Stone said: ''It's been hard on me. I have no idea where it came from, but I can't speak about what it is.''
UofL, which is only affected by the distraction of the inquiry itself and the potential suspension of Stone, has hired former NCAA director of enforcement and attorney Chuck Smrt to work on their behalf during the investigation.While the injury of the hard worker Myles and possible suspension of UK transfer Stone are disappointing and unfortunate, the Cards will have to find a way to survive. That side of this coin is obvious, cold and unforgiving but believe it or not there is a shiny side to this dirty penny. With Myles being a junior, there is likely sufficient time to rehab his injury, assuming its severity as average before the start of the 2003-04 campaign and with all of the frontline backups being second and third year players, Kendall Dartez, Luke Whitehead, Larry O'bannon and lanky Otis George should benefit greatly from the sudden increase playing time. Question is how will the lineup look Saturday? Will we see Dartez at center and Whitehead at the power spot? If Stone does play, will Dartez or Whitehead come off the bench or will they go with a three guard set and start Northern, Brown or O'bannon?
Time will tell if the wounded Cardinal team can find new ways to win, but one thing will remain a constant, this Louisville team will do all in its power to rise up from the ashes the season has become and fight until there is nothing left to fight for and with 6 weeks remaining in the season, there is still time regain momentum, they are just going to have to find a way to win possibly without Marvin Stone but assuredly without their rock Ellis Myles.
This article is dedicated to a prayer of expeditious recovery for Ellis Myles from ITV and basketball fans everywhere. Here is to the knowledge that you have the heart of a lion in you big man and in your brief absence from us, Planet Red will stand strong in your honor. While unable to help them with your game, this team needs you still, as your leadership is as great as your heart
We anxiously await your return. God speed in our recovery Ellis.