Either something died on the way to South Bend, or this was the long overdue letdown after all the close ones. The good news is that Notre Dame missed a lot of shots that it usually makes against Louisville.
This third trimester abortion of a team’s effort may have cost U of L any possibility of:
— Landing a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament
— Terrence Williams being named conference player of the year.
— The switch turning on for Earl Clark.
— Remaining in the top 15 in the national polls.
— Any intimidation factor for the rest of the schedule.
Was it a case of a team embracing what it had accomplished during the 10-game winning streak, thinking it had arrived when the coach was telling them otherwise, brushing the advice aside as just more Pitino talk, the coach and part-time comedian who keeps the local media in stitiches during pre-game press conferences.
Or it could have just been an aberration, one of those things that sometimes happens to good teams. Veteran fans can remember a team getting pummeled 99-59 by Xavier during the 1955-56 season but winning the rest of the its games, including what was then college basketball’s biggest prize in the post season.
But that was a long time ago, and it’s difficult to imagine anything so grand happening this season.
Moving from school to school is not uncommon for assistant football coaches. Shouldnâ€™t be too much ofÂ a shock that Tony Alford would leave the University of Louisville to accept a similar position at Notre Dame.
Maybe he figured that Steve Kragthorpe probably has only one year at UofL unless Kragthorpe does the unexpected next season. More than likely, Alford just couldnâ€™t resist an offer from Notre Dame, a school he described as â€œthe epitome of college football.â€
Whatever. His stint may be brief. Itâ€™s no secret that the Notre Dame faithful have their doubts about the future of Charlie Weis, the head coach. A 29-21 won-lost record after four seasons doesnâ€™t please Irish fans, clinging now to their aging tradition for at least a decade.
For some reason, the many failed third-and-one and fourth-and-one-yard frustrations from last season come to mind.
Anyone else have trouble sleeping the night of the Notre Dame game? Eyes closed but the mind still churning, dwelling on T-Will dunks, Earl Clark explosions, Samardo Samuels put-backs, Terrence Jennings blocks, Edgar Sosa’s prayer shots, and Kyle McAlarney being hounded by Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles and Andre McGee.
Visions lingering, lingering longer than those years-ago hangovers. The observer had to catch a three-hour nap the next afternoon to get back to normal. Tuck the memories away for now, move on. There is work to do, other issues, each game bigger than the last one.
Still, the observer would venture that Louisville hasn’t played a game at that level against such a good opponent since 1986. Yes, of course, we remember the comeback versus West Virginia in 2005, the Tennessee finish in 2001, and all the Memphis and Marquette thrillers.
Games like these are what turn ordinary fans into full-fledged fanatics and raise expectations through the roof. Four breath-stopping finishes in less than 10 days. The difference between Monday’s game and the other games is that UofL was playing at a much higher level against Notre Dame. No miracle comeback required.
Among many reasons to be nervous as No. 1 Pittsburgh comes calling Saturday is whether this particular group of Cards will have a mental letdown after so many close games. One can expect Rick Pitino to dig deep into his repository of motivational kick-starts for a pre-game speech that will rival all others this weekend. How much would you pay to hear that one?
Memories of last season’s game at Pittsburgh are dominated by flashes of burly monsters who constantly dominated the backboards, obscenely stuffed the baskets, and physically abused the Cards while rarely getting called for fouls. Yeah, the Cards lost for the third straight year to Pitt in the Big East Tournament. Memories of those games non-existent. Intentionally or unintentionally, who knows?
Time to create new memories: The Notre Dame game may have been child’s play compared to what’s coming Saturday.
Lady Cards Now 16-1
The Louisville women’s basketball is having a special season, too, off to an incredible 16-1 start. Two wins in a row the last two seasons over perennial power Rutgers. They would be undefeated if they had not played Nevada and some questionable officiating on Nevada’s home court but you won’t get any excuses from Jeff Walz.
If you’re a University of Louisville fanatic, you owe yourself the next home game against Cincinnati next Tuesday, at 8 p.m. at Freedom Hall. Angel McCoughtry is as good as they say she is, an exceptional basketball player.
Before that happens, however, the Lady Cards face South Florida in Tampa tonight (see Sonja’s preview) at 8, and they travel to Washington, D.C. on Saturday to face Georgetown at 4 p.m.Â One week later, they will play No. 1 UConn (15-0) on the road.
Catch your breath if you follow both the men’s and women’s teams. Huge times ahead.