The Louisville Cardinals were handed the mantra of being the No. 1 overall seed in this NCAA Tournament. Not exactly what was expected for a team with three out of conference losses, along with a 30 point drubbing at Notre Dame on Feb. 12.
It has been a great run, winning the regular season Big East Championship and then taking the Big East Tournament in fine fashion. Quite an accomplishment for a team with no poster boy All-Americans, nor being ranked any higher than 5th since Big East play started.
So the Cards marched into Dayton, played a decent game against an out-manned Morehead State team and waited to play some small school named Siena in the second round.
Cards fans were happy because a bunch of Ohio State tickets became available, and UD Arena was filled with a lot more Cardinals than Buckeyes.
So who was this Siena team? Another small school trying to become the next Cinderella? Not on the Cards watch. Or so it seemed.
TWill was seen congratulating Dejuan Blair and Sam Young of Pitt as the Cards took to the floor. Lots of smiling going on. The Cards looked loose.
It didn't take long for the Siena Saints to knock that smile off of Twill and the rest of the Cardinals team. Siena took care of the ball, and wasn't bothered at all by our press or pressure defense. Without speaking it, Siena was asking the Cards, "Are you supposed to be the No. 1 team in the Nation?"
In the second half, Siena went on a run and took a four point lead. Cardinals heads went down. Earl Clark made three straight turnovers, and all of a sudden the Fairy Godmother was looking for Cinderella.
The Cardinals took what appeared to be a knockout punch by a tough, scrappy, talented Siena team and blinked. For the first time in the last four weeks the Cards blinked. Pitino called a timeout.
As the team began to break from the timeout, Pitino challenged them. He asked them "Are you the No. 1 team in this tournament? " They all responded with a tentative yes. And only as the Godfather can, he turned over his whitewash clipboard, and showed them his answer: PROVE IT!
Is there any doubt that Rick Pitino is one of the best motivators in college basketball today?
Is there any doubt that Terrence Williams is one of the best all around players in the college game today, with the least amount of respect? TWill went out and scored 5 points, grabbed 2 boards and carried his team to a five point lead in three minutes after the challenging timeout.
The Cards had met not only the challenge from Siena, but they answered the challenge from Pitino in resounding fashion. The Saints would only score two more field goals, and the Cards would make it to the Sweet 16, battered and bruised.
The mantra was handed down from the Selection Committee and then the AP polls, No. 1 in both. On Sunday that mantra was handed to them by their coach.
The time has come for Louisville to step up and prove they are worthy of the mantra that has been handed to them. The time has come to go from being a good team, to a great team.