Louisville entered this season as a “bridge” year according to coach Rick Pitino. Not a rebuilding year but a year that would fuse with a top five recruiting class next season. Known as a bridge year. Pitino down played the talent and experience on this team as to prepare fans for a rough season. As the year unfolded though it seemed even coach Pitino underestimated the ability of this Louisville team. A preseason pick to finish tenth in the Big East and more likely headed to a third N.I.T under Pitino then a NCAA tournament birth.
Louisville finished a soft out of conference schedule 11-2 heading into Big East conference play. The magic of this season would then begin. Louisville would finish fourth in the Big East with a 12-6 conference record in a season that most fans were just hoping to be lucky to get 9 wins. Pitino and this team with one lone Senior would then make a great run to the Big East tournament title game just to fall three points short to a UConn team ion their own cinderella run.
That would be the end of the dream season and the beginning of the nightmare.
Louisville was awarded a 4-seed and matched up against an in-state opponent in Morehead State who had lost all 11 previous games versus the Cards in the school’s history. While it seemed many players as well as a large portion of the Cardinal fan base weren’t worried about the Eagles from Morehead, Kentucky. The people who knew this Ohio Valley team and coach Pitino all knew this game could be a real test.
As Morehead State came out on fire and jumped to an early 10-0 lead on Louisville it was clear this team was ready to play. The Cards on the other hand not so much. The Eagles would go on to extend their hot start and before Louisville knew what happened they found themselves trailing 19-7 , just over ten minutes into the game.
Finally Louisville would wake up and outscored Morehead State 26-14 to end the half tied at 33-33. The game may have been tied but the feeling was still uneasy in Cardinal nation.
Louisville seemed to have received the halftime speech they needed as they came out in the second half and grabbed control of the game. Taking a 47-39 lead at the 11:55 mark off a Chris Smith 3-pointer.
Then it happened….
Louisville’s only Senior, leading scorer, and heart and soul of the team Preston Knowles scrambling for a loose ball fell to the court holding his foot in severe pain. His teammates would help carry Knowles off the court but his departure left know one on the court to carry them. Morehead State would respond with a 17-5 run to take a 57-52 lead with under 4 minutes to play.
Despite the absence of their leader and Siva playing with four fouls, Louisville seemed to take late control of the game after a Jenning’s dunk and lay-up. Louisville wouldn’t score another point. Faried would make a pair of free throws to cut the Cards lead to 2. Then another one of Louisville Achilles heels came to light….clutch free throw shooting. Freshman Elisha Justice, who had hit a pair of big three pointers in the game went to the line for a one-and-one but missed the first. A story that Louisville fans and coach Pitino have lived through all season.
After a time-out by Morehead State, the Eagles got the ball into the hands of arguably their best player, Senior Demonte Harper. He was having an off day to this point. Shooting just 3-9 from the field, including 0-5 from three. I don’t think he cared about that and neither did Morehead coach Donnie Tyndall. Harper held the ball as the clock went down and in the blink of an eye he had crossed Peyton Siva over, rose up, and nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key. Crumbling Louisville’s bridge year.