At one point during all the bump-and-grinders leading up to the Big East Tournament, Rick Pitino said he had figured some things out, that his University of Louisville basketball team was ready to get it going. Words to that effect anyway.

Most folks figured it was just Pitino talking out of the side of his mouth again, more pontificating, the battered old coach trying to convince himself that he still had it. Few fans were taking him seriously, wanting to believe but unable to grasp the possibilities, ready for the season to be over. Remember?

Somebody forgot to tell the players, leaving them out of the loop. Fortunately they had the attention of the great motivator, telling them that a new season was dawning, that they were going to flourish, going to love it, start having fun again.

Peyton Siva was paying attention, buying in, believing in himself again, playing with an abundance of confidence. Making the offense flow with unprecedented efficiency — against teams that know exactly what U of L is trying to do. Against a Notre Dame team that had mastered the art of the slow down that was totally out of sync with the new look Louisville in the 64-50 loss.

“Coach P told us before we got in the Big East, just forget about the regular season, that we’re starting a new season now, we’re going to start fresh, and everybody really bought into that,” he said after the game.

The new focused and vitalized Siva would provide the leadership his team needed, along with energy, confidence, and pin point passing. Picking apart the Notre Dame defense with a whopping nine assists while making shots he never considered during the regular season for his 13 points. His eight rebounds capturing him those honors as well. The triple-triple will just have to wait, but no longer inconceivable after this performance.

Gorgui Dieng, who listens and sometimes chuckles at the coach, emerged from behind the curtain, looking for all intents and purposes like U of L’s own Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Eight of eight, including a couple of rangy hook shots that would have make Jabbar envious. Not the same player who looked tired, beaten and discouraged a week ago. He’s in the big city, on the big stage, ready to play big again.

Now comes a familiar foe in Cincinnati, with the typical cast of rugged characters that have always posed challenges for UofL teams relying on speed and finesse during the 90-plus game rivalry The only question remaining to be answered is whether Pitino has figured out how to displace the team that mastered his charges two weeks ago.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

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