Cardinals cause Huskies to cry foul

ALBUQUERQUE - You won't hear the Washington players talk about it, although some will skirt the issue in a diplomatic way. When Nate Robinson picked up his third foul with 8:51 left in the first half, the Huskies' leading scorer was effectively put away for the rest of the night. With Nate's absence paving the way, the Louisville Cardinals took full advantage. The final score of 93-79 was not indicative of how lopsided the game had become once the Huskies cried foul.

In a losing effort, the Huskies missed out on creating some new high-water marks for their program. If they had been victorious Thursday, Washington (29-6) would have won 30 games in a season for the first time in school history. They would have also reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 1953, when they made their one and only Final Four appearance. But all those marks went for naught on a day that caught UW with little defense, less shooting and even less discipline when it came to keeping their composure against a rough and ready Louisville (32-4) squad and their new-found 2-3 zone.

"You know, when you lose, you can try to point to a lot of things as to why you didn't come out on the front end. but in the first half, when those guys went down, we had to kind of adjust our rotation," said UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar. "We had settled in on a pretty good nine-man rotation. I think all the guys knew when they were going in and out. That was disrupted tonight, but you got to give Louisville credit. They put us in those positions where we had to foul or where we did foul."

We had three goals in this game," UL Head Coach Rick Pitino said. "We felt rebounding, the three-point line and turnovers were going to be the three-biggest factors." The Cardinal out-rebounded Washington 44-33, shot more three-point baskets than UW (11-6) but didn't win the battle of turnovers (17-11).

But the star of the day for Louisville may not have been one player, or even more than one player. It was Pitino's 2-3 zone, but he didn't take credit for it.

"It's a buffing zone that I stole from (Syracuse's) Jim Boeheim a few years ago," Pitino said of the key to the Cardinals' defensive success. Pitino wasn't the only one to mention the 'Cuse Thursday night, as Washington Assistant Coach Jim Shaw was quick to compare the Cardinals to Syracuse's 2003 National Championship team.

"They were so tall and long it was hard to get through their zone and they had Carmello (Anthony) at that magical level where Garcia is at right now, where they always had a guy they could go to," said Shaw, who was coaching with Oklahoma at the time he saw the Orange.

Louisville used the zone exclusively to shut down Georgia Tech to get to the Sweet Sixteen and never deviated from it in shutting down a Washington team that couldn't buy a basket from outside, eventually shooting 42 percent overall and 24 percent from deep.

"We extended a little bit more and pressured the ball hard," said Pitino. "They are as good as shooting team s us. We had to win that battle. And if we were going to give up some inside play, so be it. We were not going to give up the three."

And they didn't. Washington finished with four players in double figures, led by New Mexico transfer Jamaal Williams, but the Huskies outscored Louisville in the paint by a difference of 42-34. The junior forward had 18 points and six rebounds.

"They were going to sit in a zone, and when teams do that I'm in the middle of the offense and I get an opportunity to make plays in there," said Williams, who had a bit of a homecoming at the Pit. "I went out there and tried to play hard. It has been a good experience. It was too bad we had to go out like this, but it was fun to come back to Albuquerque and get a chance to play in the Pit again."

Brandon Roy chipped in 15, Will Conroy 14 and Simmons 10. Robinson, recently named a 3rd-team All-American, had 8 points in 26 minutes of play.

Francisco Garcia lived up to his billing as an all-around offensive threat, leading the Cardinals with 23 points. Guard Taquan Dean added 19 points before twisting his ankle late in the game. Larry O'Bannon added 18 more and freshman forward Juan Palacios put in 14 more.

"I saw a couple of openings and the first time I didn't shoot the ball," Garcia said. "Coach said that when I am open to shoot the ball. I saw a couple of easy shots and I just took them."

While the Cardinals were taking easy shots, the Huskies were doing their best to penetrate a pesky zone. But the length of Louisville's backcourt started to take a toll after Robinson left the game with his third foul.

"The guys are 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 on the perimeter, and because they were in a zone he (Robinson) had to deal with their length and height," said Shaw. "In man-to-man you can sometimes move him around, but because they stayed in a zone it was their height and length more than anything else."

At about the same time Nate left, Washington had it's biggest lead of the night - seven points - at 25-18.

But that's when Garcia and crew came alive, going on an 29-10 run during the final 7:40 to finish the half at 47-35. "He (Garcia) pulled me and I fell with him and they called it on me," Robinson said on the play that eventually spelled UW's demise.

"That was probably one of their goals, to get one of our leading scorers in foul trouble and they did a good job of it," said senior guard Tre Simmons.

The tenor of the game was established early, with the referees blowing their whistles for eight fouls before the first television timeout. In all, they called 43 fouls, with 25 of them blown in UW's direction. "Personally I think the calls went their way a little bit, but you can't argue that," added Simmons. One call that wasn't made early was a vicious screen set up high in Louisville's half-court by UL forward Otis George on Bobby Jones that sent Jones ricocheting across the floor and almost into Washington's half of the court.

"We knew from watching film that they set screens like that, and we were yelling it out but it was so hard to hear," said Robinson. "Bobby is a tough dude, we played through it.

"With the way they played, I take my hat off to 'em. They played a hell of a game. They shot the ball well, they got the ball inside and they did so many things. I wouldn't be surprised if they won the whole thing."

But as long as Simmons and Robinson were in the game, the Huskies' offense continued to click. They took some early Louisville ball-handling mistakes and ran the floor, keeping the Cardinals at bay for the first 17 minutes of the first half. But back-to-back Garcia threes broke Washington's back, especially without their sparkplug to energize a run.

"I think when they got in a rhythm shooting those threes I think we started to put our heads down a little and then they got a couple of three-point plays and we just weren't able to recover from that run," said UW forward Mike Jensen.

But as the mood was admittedly somber in the Washington locker room after the game, those returning for next year were not going to let a sour ending ruin a magical run.

"Unless we win the national championship, you've always got something to strive for," said junior forward Bobby Jones. "We were that close, yet so far away. I'm definitely taking this as a learning experience with all the exposure and the publicity, but we didn't win it all. That should motivate us to work harder in the off-season."

One question that will loom for the time being is the status of juniors Robinson and Roy, both expected to test the NBA waters with one year of eligibility remaining. "I expect to see one of them back, the taller one," said UW Assistant Coach Ken Bone, alluding to Roy.

Points: Williams 18, Roy 15, Conroy 14, Simmons 10, Jones 8, Robinson 8, Rollins 4, Jensen 2
Rebounds: Jones 9, Williams 6, Roy 5, TEAM 4, Robinson 3, Smith 3, Simmons 1, Conroy 1, Rollins 1
Assists: Conroy 8, Robinson 3, Roy 2, Jones 1, Williams 1
Blocks: none
Steals: Smith 3, Robinson 2, Conroy 2, Simmons 1, Williams 1 Top Stories