Just when the nation began doubting Cardinal basketball, Louisville seemed destined to become the UCONN of last year.
Overcoming a shaky end to the regular season, the Cards caught fire, achieving an incredible win streak that led to both a Big East tournament title and a trip to the Final Four â€“ a la the Huskies of 2011.
However, on Saturday, March 31, the Cards fell short of UCONNâ€™s feat in last yearâ€™s National Semifinal. In 2011, the Huskies defeated the University of Kentucky for a chance to play Butler in the title game, which Connecticut won 53-41.
Yet, this time the top-seeded Wildcats were hungry for revenge on the Big East. Facing arch-rival Louisville in the match-up of the century, Kentucky brought a halt to the Cardsâ€™ championship run with a 69-61 victory inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In an eerily similar fashion, Louisville lost to the Wildcats 69-62 exactly three months before in Rupp Arena.
â€œItâ€™s going to be tears either way for me,â€ said UofL fan Julie Elliott, before watching the game with her boyfriend â€“ a UK fan â€“ at the Granville Inn. â€œWith UK as good as they are this year, Iâ€™ll be probably be crying because Iâ€™m so happy that UofL won or crying because we lost. Either way. Thereâ€™s a lot of respect both ways.â€
The Cards never gained control of the tempo throughout the game Saturday. Though they out-rebounded the Cats 40-33, they were 5-for-15 on second-chance opportunities and missed a whopping 13 dunks and layups.
The Cats soon built a 13-point lead in the second half, but the Cards, known for rallying last-minute, attempted resurgence. With 9:12 left in the game, the Cards tied UK 49-49 after Peyton Siva nailed an NBA-range 3-pointer. But, it was Kentuckyâ€™s 57.1 percent shooting that made the biggest difference in the game. That, and Naismith Award winner Anthony Davis, who led the Cats with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks.
â€œI feel like itâ€™s almost more a relief than anything else because itâ€™s been awhile,â€ said Austin Miller, a UK faithful, on the Cats quest to their eighth NCAA title. â€œA championship, I just feel, is like closure to the team. Itâ€™s been a really fun team to watch â€“ very unselfish. They are what you want in a basketball team.â€
Miller was one of the few Kentucky fans packed into the Granville Inn, located about a mile away from The University of Louisville campus, during Saturdayâ€™s game. The bar was filled with riled up Cards enthusiasts, who cheered and chanted before, during, and even after, the game, despite falling to UK.
â€œThat Michigan state game (Cards fans) actually vibrated the plug out of one of the back TVs, it was so loud,â€ said Martin Hazelett, owner of the Granville. â€œPeople who live three houses down from the Florida game they said they felt vibrations on their coffee tables coming from the bar at the end of the game.â€
The Final Four loss against Kentucky was tough for all those who developed a new-found hope for the Cards this year. Yet, regardless of the score in the Commonwealth Clash, no fan can walk away saying Louisville underachieved. Ranked fourth in the nation earlier in the year, the Cards faded out of the Top 25 toward the end of the season after injuries plagued the team.
Itâ€™s the end of the journey, though, not the beginning thatâ€™s important. And, after all Louisville accomplished amidst the adversity of this year, this ending only indicates a brighter futureâ€™s in the Cards.
â€œThis yearâ€™s Cards exceeded all of my expectations,â€ said Steve Stratton, a UofL fan who attended the Final Four in New Orleans. â€œCoach Pitino showed why he is the best coach in America. Next yearâ€™s team is going to be even better than this year. Louisville fans have no idea how good of a player Luke Hancock is. And, we all need to remember that Wayne Blackshear was Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois â€“ over Anthony Davis!â€
Writer Ashley Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 502.498.2051.