Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino (L) celebrates with his team after defeating the Florida Gators in the NCAA men's West Regional basketball tournament in Phoenix

With improved health comes success for Louisville

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The current run for Louisville, which is now up to eight straight wins, actually began a couple weeks before the end of the regular season.

Simply put, the Cardinals got healthy. And with “all hands on deck”, Rick Pitino’s team was able to get going at just the right time.

Four wins in four nights at the Big East Championship and four in the NCAA tournament now has Louisville two wins away from an improbable national title.

“We wanted to come in here and start to play better basketball,” said Pitino after their win over Cincinnati in the Big East final back on March 10th. “We started to get healthy about three weeks ago and started playing guys more minutes, and it was‑‑ our practices have been a lot of fun, even though we lost to Syracuse the last game of the season.”

Just three rotation players have played in all 39 games for Louisville this season: Chane Behanan, Gorgui Dieng and Chris Smith.

But while players such as Kyle Kuric, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith may not have missed many games their being banged up made it tough for Louisville to go full tilt in practice.

The rhythm that most teams are able to cultivate during practices throughout the season wasn’t there for Louisville as a result. But they were able to get that going at just the right time, with their play on the defensive end standing out.

Just two teams have shot better than 40% from the field against Louisville during their current streak: Marquette (44%) and Florida (50%). Louisville took care of the Golden Eagles by forcing 26 turnovers, and Florida didn’t make a 3-pointer in the second half on Saturday.

Louisville will be a decided underdog on paper going into their national semifinal against top overall seed Kentucky, and rightfully so given how well the Wildcats have played all season long.

But Louisville has their health, and with that the Cardinals have been able to improve both individually and as a team. The end result: a much-deserved trip to the Final Four.

“I never wanted a Final Four more than for these guys,” said Pitino after Saturday’s win. “They give me every single thing they have in their bodies, and they’re just the most incredible group to coach.

“And now they’re going to get this experience.”

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Iowa State lands three-star SG Jakolby Long

Steve Prohm
Associated Press
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Iowa State received its fourth verbal commitment in the Class of 2016 Friday morning, as 6-foot-4 shooting guard Jakolby Long made his pledge to Steve Prohm’s program. A native of Mustang, Oklahoma, Long attends Mustang HS and played for the Athletes First grassroots program this summer.

In Nike EYBL play for Athletes First, Long averaged 16.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

According to Cyclone Fanatic, Long was also considering Georgia, Texas and Utah before deciding that he’ll play his college basketball at Iowa State. Long will join junior Matt Thomas, sophomore Hallice Cooke and transfer Nick Babb in the competition for minutes off the ball when he arrives on campus next year. According to Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune, Long could be a in a position where he sees solid playing time immediately.

Long joins junior college products Donovan Jackson and Emmanuel Malou, and 2016 forward Solomon Young in Iowa State’s 2016 class to date. And the Cyclones, who won’t use all 13 scholarships this season, still have room for a couple more additions for next season.

Iowa State has four seniors (Naz Long, Abdel Nader, Georges Niang and Jameel McKay), and junior point guard Monte’ Morris is considered by some to be a candidate to enter the 2016 NBA Draft.

UofL foundation hires firm to review escort allegations

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An independent Louisville affiliate has hired a law firm to review an escort’s allegations that former men’s basketball staffer Andre McGee hired dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players.

The University of Louisville Foundation announced the hiring Thursday of the Stites & Harbison law firm. The foundation does fundraising for the university.

Louisville President James Ramsey also said Thursday he “fully” supports athletic director Tom Jurich “as we work to identify the facts in this situation.” Ramsey reiterated the school has hired former NCAA enforcement official Chuck Smrt to lead the athletic department’s investigation.

Men’s basketball spokesman Kenny Klein had no comment on a CBS Sports report that former Cardinals recruit JaQuan Lyle, now an Ohio State freshman, confirmed the “gist of allegations” detailed in Katina Powell’s book during a meeting Tuesday with the NCAA.

Lyle originally signed with Louisville before de-committing and eventually landing with the Buckeyes. OSU spokesman Dan Wallenberg confirmed the NCAA meeting via email on Wednesday but said there were no issues with Ohio State. He did not mention Louisville.

Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” was released online last weekend by a publishing affiliate of the Indianapolis Business Journal. A hardcover version of the 104-page book is scheduled for release on Monday.

The book states that McGee hired Powell and other dancers, including three of her daughters, for 22 shows allegedly performed from 2010 to 2014 at the players’ Billy Minardi Hall dormitory.

McGee left Louisville in 2014 for Missouri-Kansas City, which placed him on paid leave Friday. A message left Thursday with his Louisville attorney, Scott C. Cox, was not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for IBJ’s publishing arm could not be reached either.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has said McGee denied Powell’s allegations. In a radio interview Tuesday he denied knowledge of what took place and said last week that others he talked to didn’t know about the activities described in the book.

“I’m going through 15 people who worked here, and not one person even had a premonition of something wrong,” Pitino said Friday. “Not one person living in the dorm had even the slightest premonition. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Hall of Fame coach wasn’t mentioned in Ramsey’s statement in which the chancellor praised Jurich’s athletic program as “exemplary” at the school.

“It is important that the university – all of us – stay focused on our day-to-day work of providing our outstanding students with a world-class education,” Ramsey said. “The investigation of the allegations may take time and we must, as one university, continue doing the work we do to move our university and our community forward.”