Louisville stood up to championship test

Louisville began the season ranked behind favorite Indiana in most of the preseason polls with defending champion Kentucky right behind them at No. 3 in most rankings.
But then, the NCAA basketball championship is won in March, not October.
Kentucky was never the same after Nerlens Noel went down with a season-ending knee injury.
And while Indiana fared well enough to win the Big Ten regular-season title and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Hoosiers’ season came to a crashing halt in the postseason against a Syracuse team that was steamrolled by the Cardinals in the Big East title game.
When the season ended Monday night, there was no longer any question that Louisville deserved to be No. 1 all along.
Michigan did its best to provide a different outcome, but the Cardinals eventually found the extra gear to pull away for an 82-76 victory over the Wolverines in Atlanta.
Sure, Louisville had its struggles this season, too. The Cardinals lost three in a row in late January, and four of seven games overall during a down stretch. Then in the NCAA tournament, the Cardinals lost guard Kevin Ware to a horrifying broken leg.
Much has been written about the inspiration Ware has been for his teammates, and one of the neat moments Monday night was when the basket was lowered so Ware could cut a piece of the net.
But the turning point for Louisville came after that fourth loss it suffered in seven games.
I’m referring to the 104-101, five overtime setback to another team from the Hoosier State, Notre Dame.
It was after that game that Pitino and his players rededicated themselves to winning a national title.
A Sweet Sixteen wins later, the Cardinals realized their goal. They weren’t just good down the stretch, they were dominating. Louisville won the 14 games prior to the Final Four by an average of 16 points.
“When we lost to Notre Dame, I said ‘Guys, we never panic. But mentally you’ve got to become a great basketball team, not just physically,” Pitino said after Monday’s title game that made him the only coach to win NCAA championships with two different schools.
Pitino said the Cardinals were beating themselves during that stretch with turnovers and mental errors.
“I gave them very demanding goals,” he said. “I said, ‘It’s not probable what I’m about to say to you, but I think it’s possible. I think we can win the next seven games, go into the most special arena in America, win the tournament in Madison Square Garden, then go on, be a No.1 seed and win the national championship.
“So we talked about it. We were quite open about it. When you set demanding goals, you really do have to focus in and pay attention to that. That was our goals right after the Notre Dame game. They were down. I said, ‘You shouldn’t be down. Give them credit. Here is what we’re going to do.’
“To be honest with you, I’m just so amazed that they should accomplish everything that we put out there. I’m absolutely amazed as a basketball coach.”

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