Putting The Pieces Together, How Soon …

Not as bad as Kentucky, about even with Cincinnati, not as good as Dayton …

Before the win over UK, U of L fans would have had been deluding themselves if they gave this basketball team a five on a scale of 1 to 10. The Cards had lost to four teams they could have beaten while not looking very impressive in achieving the nine wins.

A win over Kentucky, the hated arch rival to the east — no matter how bad the Cats are — is reason enough for temporary amnesia about early season play. Beating the Wildcats on their home court, shutting up their vocal fan base, has that kind of effect.

Assuming the win over the Cats was the result of “smart play” and not driven by high levels of adrenaline, Card fans have a number of reason to believe this team can still be among the best U of L teams in a couple of decades:

  • The miraculous return of David Padgett with his leadership abilities. Padgett’s desire to play basketball is exceeded only by his will to win. He has earned his position as a leader, and his teammates are taking note.
  • Juan Palacios, if he plays like he did in Lexington, will be another stabilizing force on the front line.
  • Derrick Caracter seems to have discovered the ability to feed open teammates. That’s good because the opposition is becoming more effective in stopping him around the basket.
  • Jerry Smith is exuding confidence behind the three-point line. Knows when to shoot and when to dish.
  • Terrence Williams obviously has the physical attributes. Showed last season he can play smart and under control. That’s the form to which he needs to return.

Meanwhile, Andre McGee and Edgar Sosa need to settle into their respective roles. How soon that happens depends on how quickly Sosa comes around. Earl Clark? Quite a bit of ability but low levels of intensity thus far. If he ever becomes a team player, look out.

Reaping The Red

Always good to beat Kentucky, especially in basketball because that’s the sport that really matters to UK fans. More than 24,000 of them descended on Rupp Arena, many hoping their tradition would be enough to humble the Cards. This win was especially nice one for a number of reasons:

–Won’t have to listen UK fans crow about how much better than U of L their program is, even in a down year.

— UK fans will have to live with the loss for a year.

— U of L fans will quit arguing between themselves about whether Pitino has lost his coaching touch, at least until the Cards lose another game.

UK fans will have to read the red headlines in the Louisville and Lexington newspapers.

— Juan Palacios playing his best game since he got poked in the eye in his first game against UK three years ago.

— U of L finding a semblance of an inside game, even though David Padgett’s recuperation is an ongoing process.

— Jerry Smith pumping his chest, inhaling a major dose of confidence, scoring 17 points.

U of L vs. UK

  • U of L will win at Rupp Arena if the Cards don’t depend on the three-point shot. Should have won last year, but they managed to hit only three of 24 shots behind the arc, many of the shots uncontested. This is not a good three-point shooting team.
  • David Padgett and Derrick Caracter must stay out of foul trouble. Last year, Padgett had four fouls, and Caracter, well, he fouled out in less than eight minutes.
  • T-Will must play like he’s the leading scorer. He managed only seven points.
  • Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee must get more than the one assist they managed last time.
  • Palacios must go back to being the player he was before Rondo stuck his finger in his eye three seasons ago.
  • Preston Knowles deserves more playing time; his intensity is being wasted.

Mountaineer Myopia

West Virginia. What a place. Outsiders would never want to live there, residents don’t want to leave. Something about the winding roads, the mountains, the us-against-the-world mentality.

The love was visible in the face of Bill Stewart, tears flowing after waxing Oklahoma. Even the “runaway beer truck” of a fullback, Owen Schmitt, was unable to maintain his composure. The elusive Pat White took advantage of a TV microphone to announce his choice of Stewart as the next head football coach.

The only thing missing at the Fiesta Bowl was a good turnout of WVU fans, who must have assumed a trip to Arizona was a waste of time without Rich Rodriguez. The loss to Pittsburgh didn’t help help either. The university had returned 7,500 of its allotted 17,500 tickets.

Apparently the loyalty of WVU fans only goes so far. Fortunately for the fans, the team won without them.

Pitino Haters Signing Up

Cat fans are pulling out the Sharpies and the cardboard already, preparing their hate signs for the bi-annual assault on Rick Pitino as he delivers the Cards to Lexington. The hardliners have never got over Pitino leaving, believing Pitino is more to blame for their current woes than Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie combined.

Wonder if the Louisville executive, who hired a local design firm to do his personal Hate-Pitino sign for Rupp Arena in 2001, is up to his old antics again? Wouldn’t surprise this observer at all.

They still have little regard for the coach who pulled them out of the swamp in the mid-nineties. The scandal-ridden Kentucky basketball team had taken a nosedive, earning a front cover on Sports Illustrated with the headline, “Kentucky’s Shame” UK President David Rochelle declared that Kentucky’s basketball program was “going down the plumbling,”okaying more than $350,000 in legal fees.

The outlook changed dramatically after Pitino brought his drive to succeed in high gear to Lexington, delivering three Final Four appearances and a national championship. Pitino ball worked then, three-pointers were excessive, the fast break and the full court press consistently devoured the opposition. His teams humbled Denny Crum, helping to hurry up the end of a great career. The Cats had everything going for them, even won another title with Pitino’s players after he left for Boston.

That’s old news, only part of a “great” tradition. The fanatics believe it happened because they are Kentucky, that winning was their birthright, that UK made Pitino successful instead of vice versa. Some would even pull the Pitino banner down from the rafters.

Go ahead. Draw up those hate signs. Just don’t expect Pitino to save you again.