Louisville poised for second golden age under Jurich

Posted: June 15, 2011 by Raashaan Myers in Louisville Basketball, Louisville Football

 (photo: sportsbusinessdaily.com)

It was the 2004-05 academic year and starting on Sept. 4th, 2004 with a 28-0 whipping of rival Kentucky at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium would begin a banner season and era in U of L athletics. Under the direction of budding super AD Tom Jurich the University of Louisville’s surge to elite program status would rise to its greatest heights as a total sports entity.

After the dismantling of UK the Cards would take a 4-0 record on the road to face the #3 ranked and undefeated Miami Hurricanes. Everyone knows the story of that game with Kerry Rhodes dropping the would be game winning interception and the Miami comeback win.  Yet in defeat Louisville would earn more respect in that game than any other the rest of the year. Of course Louisville would go undefeated the rest of the way culminating in the historic showdown of top 10 teams vs. undefeated #10 Boise State. In what many considered the best game of the bowl season and an ESPN instant classic Louisville finished off the Broncos 44-40 and claimed the #5 ranking in the final polls. This season put Louisville football in the ranks of the elite and would culminate in the 2006 Orange Bowl victory over ACC champ Wake Forest.

While Bobby Petrino and crew were plowing through their November stretch of the season Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino was beginning the process of erasing the disappointment from the previous season’s stinging first round upset to Xavier. After a couple of tough early losses to Iowa in the Maui Invitational and at home to UK in the infamous Patrick Sparks walk game the Cards turned it on. Suffering defeat only twice more the rest of the season en route to the CUSA tournament final with John Calipari and the Memphis Tigers. As would become the norm for this season the game would become an instant classic with shades of the UK/Sparks game coming to mind with Memphis freshman Darius Washington fouled attempting a three pointer as time expired. After knocking down the first Washington would miss the final two freebees crumpling to the floor and giving Louisville the 75-74 victory and great momentum heading into the NCAAs. The Cards would march through the competition on the way to the West Regional Final vs. soon to be conference foe West Virginia. And in its third instant classic of the season Louisville would comeback from down 20 points and defeat the Mountaineers in overtime and claim Louisville’s first Final Four bid since 1986. Though the Cards would lose to Illinois in the National Semifinal this improbable run put Rick Pitino’s stamp on the program and signified Louisville return to basketball elite status.

While both the football and men’s basketball teams were reaching near the pinnacle of success in the 04-05 campaign the women’s basketball team started something special in a much more subtle manner. In his banner season to that point head Coach Tom Collen would lead the Lady Cards to a 22-8 regular season behind super soph Jazz Covington. That success on the court would lead to the Lady Cards earning their first bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. This was the first of what has become 6 of the last 7 seasons the U of L women would play in the NCAA tournament.  Louisville would go on to lose in the first round vs. USC but the biggest victory in program history came after the season was over. That spring Collen and Louisville would reel in the dynamic duo of Angel McCoughtry and local product Candice Bingham who would take the women’s program to the next level and ultimately the 2009 NCAA championship game vs. UConn.

It was after the 2004-05 season that Louisville AD Tom Jurich truly became thought of as the finest Athletic Director in the country and from the looks of things the 2011-12 season could serve as a reminder of that. The three revenue producing sports at Louisville are now poised to have another banner season that could approach and maybe even surpass the success of the 04-05 season if things go smoothly. Each of the three teams have stockpiled as much talent as may have ever been seen at any point in the program’s history  and well as the finest coaching staff each has seen as well.  Add to that a ton of youth on the rosters to promote continuity, a super support staff, and the greatest fan base in college athletics and you have the makings of a super season.

Head coach Charlie Strong will begin his second campaign with Louisville after an overachieving 7-6 season and Beef O’Brady’s bowl victory. Though he does have to replace 27 seniors and there will be a considerable youth movement Louisville will have as much talent on the field as any team in the Big East. After signing 2 of the top 3 classes in Louisville history including Elite 11 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater the Cardinals will have a team on the rise in a mediocre Big East football conference. The team will have possibly the best defense in the conference and an offense full of playmakers. Look for the Cards to go bowling again this year with an eye on a possible return to the BCS in 2012.

The Louisville Men’s basketball program will bring into this season its most deep and talented roster in Rick Pitino’s tenure. Returning 9 of the top 10 players  from a team that finished 3rd in the Big East as well as McDonald’s All American’s Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan as part of the best recruiting class in Pitino’s time at Louisville things look promising. Louisville will begin the season as a top 10 team led by point guard Peyton Siva will be a team contending for another run at the Final Four and a national championship.

And the team I feel may have the best season of all is Jeff Walz’s Lady Cards.  Coming off a year that saw a team completely dominated by underclassmen including freshman All American Shoni Schimmel reach the Sweet 16 the Cards return everyone of note except starting center Keisha Hines.  Add to what would have been a Final Four contender with the roster as is the greatest recruiting class in program history including McDonald’s All Americans Sara Hammond and Bria Smith and Louisville is poised for something special.  The Lady Cards have the talent and depth to challenge UConn and Notre Dame for the Big East crown as well as contend for the National Championship.

Needless to say the prospects for the coming season are exciting for all the top programs at U of L and Tom Jurich is the man that has made it all possible. So Louisville fans enjoy what guarantees to be a fun ride this season and if you get the opportunity thank the man that has made this all possible. And maybe just maybe the drought of basketball national titles will come to a halt this year and if not in the very near future.

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