Cards set aside own agendas to win

January, 26, 2009

Terrence Williams doesn't have the exact answer as to why Louisville couldn't start the season the way it should have, the way it wanted or the way it was projected.

But he has an idea.

Selfishness to some degree was involved.

"It's not an excuse, but everybody was coming off a summer of their own agenda,'' said the Louisville senior forward. "Everybody was about shooting too much, including myself, instead of buying into what the coach was saying. After a while, we got embarrassed.''

Louisville didn't embarrass itself. The losses to Western Kentucky in Nashville, to Minnesota in Glendale, Ariz., and top UNLV at home were hardly to teams that scrape the bottom of the RPI. All three of these teams could be in the NCAA tournament. Instead, what the losses did was create a perception that Louisville wasn't a Final Four-caliber team and couldn't compete with Pitt and Connecticut for the Big East title.

Clearly, that was wrong. Louisville has won seven in a row, is one of two undefeated teams in the Big East at 6-0 (the other is Marquette) and is coming off an impressive Sunday win at Syracuse, just eight days after beating then-No. 1 and undefeated Pitt at home.

"What we did is listen to our Hall of Fame coach instead of our own agendas,'' Williams said by phone late Sunday after the Cardinals returned from Syracuse. "We're thinking of we now, not our own agendas.''

But it's not like the seven wins were without a few hiccups. Louisville needed a game-winning 3-pointer by Edgar Sosa to beat Kentucky, and if Villanova had converted a layup, the Cards would have lost to those Wildcats, too.

"I'm not going to lie, we were lucky in those games,'' Williams said. "But you need luck to win the Big East championship.''

But there's more statistical data that backs up Louisville's run than just luck.

Louisville has won four of six Big East games on the road so far. The Cardinals have held 11 opponents to below 40 percent from the field, including five of the last six. If you're looking at just Big East stats, the Cardinals are tops in scoring defense (61.5 ppg), field-goal percentage defense (.379), blocked shots (6.8) and steals (9.0), according to Louisville.

This is also the first time the Cardinals have started conference play with a 6-0 record since 2004, when they were in Conference USA.

One of the main reasons for the hot start is Williams. In his last four games, he is shooting 55 percent (33-of-60) and 44.4 percent on 3s (8-of-18) and is averaging 20.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

"I'm being more assertive offensively,'' Williams said. "It's not that I'm looking for my shot more; I'm not forcing my shot. I don't go and try to score 20 points.''

Williams attributes the defensive change to a number of things, including listening to Rick Pitino's demands, the sheer length and athleticism of himself, Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels, and a desire to actually play defense.

"Defense is fun for this team,'' said Williams.

And losing to Western Kentucky, and perhaps to UNLV at home, has made the Cards much more appreciative of the opponent. "We can't have a letdown, we can't be an upset,'' Williams said. "A prime example is Georgetown losing to Seton Hall.''

The schedule is favorable for the Cards, with five of the next seven at home, including a showdown with Connecticut on Feb. 2. The two road games are at St. John's and at Notre Dame.

• It's still hard to figure out if Florida is really good or if the SEC is just average. Regardless, the Gators had an impressive win over Vanderbilt in Nashville on Sunday afternoon. Florida is going to win a lot of games if Chandler Parsons played like he did against the Commodores. He scored 27 points, including seven of Florida's 15 3s. If they do that, the Gators will be hard to beat in the SEC.

• Seton Hall's win over Georgetown and St. John's win over Notre Dame aren't going to keep the losers out of the NCAA tournament. But it does create a bit more separation among the elite and the middle ground in the Big East. We'll see if any of the true elite teams in the Big East lose to the bottom dwellers this season. Hard to believe that Georgetown started out the Big East with a road win at Connecticut and is now 3-4 in the league.

• Give Tom Crean credit for Indiana's work ethic. The Hoosiers don't quit. Indiana was right there throughout Sunday's game, losing by four to Minnesota.

• Virginia Tech is a great example of why it is a long season, and why making snap decisions on whether a team is tourney-worthy can be done way too early. The Hokies are off to a 4-1 ACC start with wins at Wake Forest, at Miami and over Boston College. Malcolm Delaney poured in 29 in the road win at Miami on Sunday night.

John Holland continues to be durable for Boston University. Holland played 39 minutes for the Terriers in the Sunday win at Maine, scoring 23 points. Holland played 60 minutes in a quadruple overtime win over Stony Brook and 44 minutes in a double-overtime win over UMBC.

• I never would have guessed that Georgia Tech would be 0-6 in the ACC at this point.

• Northern Iowa continues to rule the Missouri Valley. A 78-69 win at Missouri State moved the Panthers to 8-1 in conference play. Adam Koch had the game of the day on Sunday with 30 points, including making 18 of 20 free throws.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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