LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Edgar Sosa sometimes likes to replay his game-winning shot against Kentucky last season without the flashbulbs, the screaming, and the heroics of doing it in front of 19,000 fans at Freedom Hall.
As Sosa dribbled time out and took a fading three-pointer with the Wildcats' Michael Porter in his face, his 25-foot dagger dropped with 2.8 seconds remaining, swaying the vicious rivalry in the Cardinals' favor.
But before and after practice or in between summer drills, the shot doesn't fall every time—just enough that Sosa said he knows the magnitude of what he accomplished last Jan. 4.
“As the time has passed, I'm coming to realize how big that shot was,” Sosa said.
This time last year, Sosa wasn't in Louisville coach Rick Pitino's best graces. Pitino publicly criticized his point guard's defense and even suggested he continue his basketball career elsewhere.
Eighteen points against Kentucky and a game winner later, Sosa's career changed along with his mentality.
The shot was a confidence boost, but more importantly, Pitino said Sosa re-learned how to play with his team first rather than himself first.
“If the quarterback takes his team to the Final Four, Super Bowl, whatever they call it, whether or not his numbers good, he took them there,” Pitino said. “So Edgar had a great sophomore and junior year, and he is having a very good senior year.”
Throughout his sophomore year and a rocky start to his junior season, Sosa had been on a crusade to repeat his 31-point performance against Texas A&M in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. While Sosa may have considered his game against the Aggies a moral victory, the Cardinals ultimately lost and ended the season without reaching the Sweet 16.
The shot that lifted Louisville over Kentucky last season flipped a switch for Sosa—created a change of priorities for the point guard—according to junior guard Preston Knowles.
“He's not all about Edgar Sosa anymore,” Knowles said. “If you're playing great and your team is losing, that's not saying a lot about you. But if you're playing good and your team is winning, that says a lot about you.
“I think he understands that and he's making good strides.”
Strides could be an understatement, at least for a player that earned a reputation for his inability to distribute the ball as a point guard for three years at Louisville.
This season, Sosa is averaging a career-high 4.3 assists per game, up from 2.4 last season. He's shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range for the first time in his career, up more than 10 percent from last season. And although he's playing with a team-first mentality, Sosa's 13.1 points per game average is also a career high.
But with all the benefits he's found on the court thanks to what Sosa said was his first game-winning shot ever, there's been plenty of backlash from the other side.
Almost immediately after the game, Sosa said Kentucky fans started to send him oftentimes “disrespectful” and sometimes “vulgar” messages over Facebook. He added that it was “stuff that didn't even have to do with basketball.”
Sosa said it’s no secret why the hatred is aimed at him.
“The fans are pissed about the game-winning shot last year,” he said. “I guess everyone down in Lexington just hates me.”
Yet for all the mistreatment he's received as a result, Sosa said he's very happy he made the shot—that it's “just how UK fans are.”
And regardless of the result of this Saturday's game at Rupp Arena—the first meeting between Louisville and Kentucky since his late-game heroics—Sosa has a memory that makes the 2 a.m. trips to the gym and all of the criticisms he's about to receive worth it.
“Years from now, I think that shot's going to mean even more to me,” Sosa said.
That may be hard, seeing as the shot has already meant an awful lot.
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