NEW ORLEANS – Louisville was clearly upset with the way that their season ended, losing to archrival Kentucky in the Final Four. Anytime your season ends with a loss when you have the chance to end it with a win, it is disappointing.
But this was far from a soul-crushing defeat for the Cardinals, and head coach Rick Pitino admitted as much after the game.
“When you go home with a bronze medal around your neck, it’s not disappointing,” Pitino said. “I told the guys, ‘Look, I’m going to Miami tomorrow and I’m celebrating a season where we worked around the clock, around injuries and everything else. If you guys don’t celebrate and have good, clean fun, you’re fools.'”
He’s got a point.
Louisville wasn’t supposed to be in the Final Four this year. There was one point in the season where they weren’t even considered a lock to make the tournament. Their run through the Big East tournament and into the Final Four was like catching a heater on the craps table. At some point, you put a pile of those chips in your pocket and play with the house’s money.
The Cardinals understood that.
They realized that they had a great run in a trying season and simply ran into a better team that played a better game.
Depending on how things play out this spring, Louisville may end up being that better team next season. If no one leaves for the NBA, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Gorgi Dieng are all back. Chris Smith is replaced by Wayne Blackshear in the starting lineup, Mike Marra will finally be nursed back to health and and Luke Hancock will be eligible. That’s solid.
Perhaps the best sign of Louisville’s trip to the Final Four was the play of Blackshear. He finished with nine points in 14 minutes, including a pair of spectacular dunks. The Cardinals lack some scoring punch this year, but a healthy Blackshear would change that. He dealt with shoulder surgery this year.
“We’re only going to get better,” Pitino said. “You saw a glimpse of Wayne Blackshear.”
Hopefully, next year we see him at 100%.