A must win situation, backs against the wall, win or go home, loser shaves his head. All of those sports cliche's, described The Louisville Cardinals playing in Freedom Hall for the very last time against the #1 ranked team in the country, The Syracuse Orangemen. According to Head Coach Rick Pitino, and ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi ,the Cardinals needed to win two out of the last three games of the regular season to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals did just that and than some in what could best be described as a celebration of the Louisville Cardinals basketball team's past, present and future. After this game, the future looks bright.
The Cardinals defeated the Orangemen, 78-68, on a from-out-of-nowhere 22 point explosion from sophomore guard Kyle Kuric. Kuric scored all of his points in a second half that saw the Cardinals outscore the Orangemen by 15 points, 48-33, after being down 5 going into halftime, 35-30. The first half started out in what has frustratingly become the norm, with Louisville settling for 3 point jumpshots and absolutely refusing to try to get anything going in the low post with sophomore center, Samardo Samuels, against the Orangemens 2-3 zone defense. As a direct result of the Cardinals missing numerous outside jumpshots, the Orangemen were able to score on many fast break opportunities. These miscues on the offensive end, and a lack of offensive rebounding, gave the Orangemen a 35-30 lead going into halftime.
The second half would turnout to be a completely different story, but first, some recognition needed to be handed out to past Cardinals during halftime. The 1980 and 1986 national championship teams were both introduced, along with the seven previous All-Americans. After almost a quarter century, even the elusive UofL legend, Pervis Ellison, made an appearance at the final game in Freedom Hall. After that unforgettable ceremony, the present UofL basketball Cardinals had no choice but to close Freedom Hall in grand style. The Cardinals more than delivered, bringing the capacity crowd to a fever pitch with the help of guard Kyle Kuric putting on one of the best performances in Freedom Hall history. Kuric scored 22 points on 9 of 11 shooting, making 4 0f 6 of his three pointers. If Kuric wasn't dunking, he was sinking a three pointer, with all but 2 of his points coming from either dunks or three's.
The Orangemen had no answer for Kuric's onslaught as star senior shooting guard ,Andy Rautins, scored only 3 points on an atrocious 1 of 9 shooting from the field and 1 of 8 from the three point line. The other star for the Orangemen, still injured junior forward Wesley Johnson, had a little better game, scoring 18 points on 6 of 15 from the field and 5 of 6 from the free throw line. Senior power forward, Arinze Onuaku chipped in with 14 points and 7 rebounds.
Being old enough to appreciate the moment on a sunny Saturday afternoon, at Freedom Hall, is something I will never forget. I know how lucky I am to be able to watch roughly 20 years of basketball coached by two of the best coaches of all time. From 'Doctor Dunkenstein" Darrell Griffith, the greatest UofL legend of them all, to "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison, seeing all of the players who put Louisville basketball on the map, in one building, was a once in a lifetime experience. I couldn't have asked for a better closing to the best basketball arena I have ever been to. The Downtown Arena may be brand spanking new and have all the bells and whistles, but to me, it will never replace "The World Famous Freedom Hall".