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.

Rutgers Relief

Good to get that one out of the system. Looked like two teams of players roused from their beds on a Sunday for a noon time television game.

— Rutgers has plenty of talent. Will surprise teams at home if they can get their act together.

— Had to be embarrassed for Derrick Caracter who kept getting shot after shot of his blocked in the first half. Ten miles from home, he had to feel humiliated.

— David Padgett is making it tough on opponents on the defensive end but he still lacks the ability to get off the floor. That will hurt against mobile big men.

— Will Scott was a magnet for the ball during his few minutes, attracting stray rebounds and bad passes. Hey, whatever works.

— Edgar Sosa should not feel bad for attempting to block a three-point shot, barely touching the shooter after the shot, not when officials ignore so many shooters getting hammered on layups.

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Good vibes coming from Inside the Ville and Rivals on the football recruiting weekend. Apparently several key recruits were on hand for the U of L-UConn women’s basketball game at a sold-out Freedom Hall. How could one not be impressed?

Jamming Freedom Hall

A preview of the future of Louisville women’s basketball arrived today as 19,123 fans crammed Freedom Hall to see the Lady Cards take on No. 1 ranked Connecticut. The total was a record for both U of L and the Big East Conference — and the largest crowd to attend a women’s game in the country this year.

What the fans saw was evidence that the quality of women’s basketball continues to improve. The prototypical women’s college basketball players today are athletes. They are fast, they play tough defense, and they hit shots their predecessors never dreamed of taking. Probably a surprise to some people attending their first women’s game, should make them want to return.

UConn is the envy of every women’s basketball coach. The Huskies are 15-0 after defeating U of L 93-72. They are undefeated because every player on that team is a finely-tuned athlete. The best athlete on the floor, however, was U of L’s Angel McCoughtry, managing to score 30 points while she was the primary focus of a bruising UConn defense.

Even though the place was packed, there weren’t that many familiar faces. Probably means some fans aren’t that clued into what’s really happening. They’ll jump on the bandwagon when Jeff Walz takes a team to a first Final Four. Many children in the crowd, future fanatics of U of L’s women’s basketball. U of L women’s basketball takes a giant step.

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The impressive turnout also had to impress another key audience — several important football recruits on campus this weekend, trying to decide between U of L and other major schools. Watch for some verbal commits next week.