Get Feet On Ground

That sinking feeling is the adrenalin still draining after perfection against Marquette, a game in which almost everything went right right. Fans could be forgiven if they reveled in this one for at least a couple of days. Just like the good old days.

Forget that. Fans wouldn’t allow players to do it nor should fans do it. Road trip ahead.

Seton Hall University awaits. Players have to get on an airplane, head for Newark, NJ, hoping for none of the typical delays at airports en route to the Prudential Center.

Seton Hall is fresh off its first Big East success in four starts, a 74-64 win over South Florida at home Thursday. The Pirates lost at Marquette by only five points just over a week ago and at Pittsburgh by 14. They’re happy to be home, hoping to burst the bubble of a team they hope is still celebrating its best win of the season.

A test of maturity. Seton Hall will be pumped.

Making It Look Easy Not Easy

If you looked only at the final score, one might be tempted to think the win came almost too easily. That would be a mistake. The 20-point margin of victory was only possible because the Cards committed themselves to play 40 minutes of hellish defense.

Rotating, switching, anticipating, unrelenting, sliding those feet.

Small wonder the alma mater of Steve Novak and Travis Diener could not hit a three-point shot in a game for the first time since the 2000-01 season. Making two of their first 16 shots, managing only six points in the first 11 minutes of the first half. Averaging more than 80 points a game but held to only 51 points.

Marquette knew the visiting team often wins in this rivalry. The few times the Cards did relax, they saw how quickly the Golden Eagles could get back into a game, cutting U of L’s lead down to six points early in the second half. Marquette had 10 fast break points, U of L had four. The Cards had 16 turnovers, the Golden Eagles had only 13.

Jerry Smith missed all seven of his field goal attempts but was indispensible. Played 37 minutes of in-your-face defense, rarely allowing a shot, much less a three-point attempt. The U of L big men and, yes, that includes Derrick Caracter, are making it difficult for their counterparts around the basket. Started early in the UK game and continues.

You never notice Terrence Williams on defense but he must be doing his job or he wouldn’t be in — scoring 20 points to lead all scorers. David Padgett may have said it best. “If we keep playing good defense, and continue to work on our offense, we can be a pretty good team.”

Expect A Battle

Time to get serious about Marquette, an impressive team arriving at Freedom Hall with a nine-game winning streak. The Golden Eagles are 13-2 and rank 13th in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls.

Marquette pounded a pretty good Notre Dame team 92-66 in its last game in Milwaukee, forcing 24 Irish turnovers while hitting 12 of 24 three-point attempts. The visitors are led by Dominic James, averaging 14.9 points per game.

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FAMILIAR FACE — Jerry Smith is the last face Tom Crean wanted to see in Louisville. The Marquette coach actually offered a scholarship to Smith when Smith was in the eighth grade at Wauwatosa (Wis.) High School. Smith went on to become the state’s Mr. Basketball and was a three-time all-state selection, the first in the state’s history. One of the highlights of Smith’s career was the last second three-point shot that lifted U of L to a 61-59 win last February.

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ETU JUAN — Not enough has been made of Juan Palacios joining U of L’s 1,000-point club, the 58th player to make it. He achieved the milestone in the win over Rutgers on Sunday. Rick Pitino, remember, predicted a red shirt year for Palacios.

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GOLDEN EAGLES? Marquette arrives in town as the Golden Eagles for the second consecutive year. They junked the name Warriors a fews years ago. The administration changed the nickname to Gold but met great resistance from the students and alumni. Marquette was even known for many years as the Hilltoppers. With the growing animal rights movement, how long the Golden Eagles will be around is anyone’s guess.

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CRACKED SIDEWALKS: A good place to get a Marquette perspective on the U of L-Marquette rivalry is Cracked Sidewalks. Now if he will share his secret about how he got the the arena in the background, we can look at adding Freedom Hall here.

Return of Bryl Cream Man

Marquette comes to town Thursday and, believe it or not, Brian Wardle, Travis Diener and Steve Novak will not be with the team. You know, the players who seemed like they played there forever.

The Milwaukee-based school is a Jesuit institution that doesn’t play football. Fans of other schools, therefore, tend to forget the Golden Eagles exist until one or two days before they are scheduled to play basketball. By then, it’s too late. They’ve been psyched up for months, having circled your school on the calendar, and they know every single detail about your strengths and weaknesses.

These games are always close, even when one of the teams is having an off year. Not sure I agree with Tom Heiser that, with the recent decline of Cincinnati, Marquette is U of L’s strongest natural rival. Hard to see anything natural about the series except for that fact that both have good basketball traditions, that and their common C-USA heritage.

Tom Crean resembles a mad scientist more than a basketball coach on the sidelines, with his Bryl Cream hair and those spectacles from the Fifties. Dashing wildly about during games, he always seems to be tottering on the verge of a breakdown. One of those people whose jitters make other people jittery. Hyperactivity personified, but he’s an effective coach.

What would be nice would be a game where U of L comes out clicking on all cylinders and puts Marquette away early. Won’t happen, probably never will. Buzzer beater for sure.

Catching Up With Francisco

Some of us quickly lose track of players who depart the University of Louisville early for the professional ranks. Hard to let go of Francisco Garcia, such a fan favorite who endured and accomplished much with the Cards.

Garcia turned in a double-double in the Sacramento Kings’ five-point loss to the Indiana Pacers over the weekend, chalking up 22 points, three three-pointers, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals in 45 minutes. Francisco, who is currently averaging 13.8 points and 29 minutes per game, had some interesting things to say about his former college coach in an interview with Hoops World:

Coming from Louisville, how does playing for a coach like Rick Pitino prepare you for the NBA?

“He prepared me really good, especially mentally. I learned to just wait for my time, and when the opportunity comes, to take advantage of it.”

He didn’t really have much success on the pro level, but he guided your 2005 team to the Final Four. Why do you think he’s such a better college coach than pro coach?

“I think he’s a very emotional guy, and in the NBA you can’t be that emotional. In college, players are going to listen to you when you get that emotional.”

Moving forward, what’s the future you and the Kings?

“I don’t know. I’m happy here, and I’m just enjoying my time.”

Glad to hear it, Franciso. It’s a shame you guys play most of your games on Pacific Standard Time.