LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Tenth-ranked Louisville put to rest a lot of its psychological scars with a 78-68 overtime win over No. 13 North Carolina.
For a team ranked as high as fourth this season, the Cardinals had some insecurities about how good they really were. Despite not having any bad losses, they needed a marquee win.
They’ve got one now.
The Tar Heels were on a six-game win streak and had won 11 of their past 12 games entering Saturday. The only loss was a one-point setback to Notre Dame. Even though the Cardinals felt they should have won the first meeting in Chapel Hill, N.C., Louisville senior forward Wayne Blackshear said they were starting to hear the same conversation as in the past season.
“We were in the same situation last year -- that we couldn’t beat ranked teams,” Blackshear said. “We weathered the storm. We came back from down 18. We didn’t give up.”
It wasn’t quite the “Miracle on Main,” when Louisville rallied from an 18-point deficit to Marquette in the final five-plus minutes on Jan. 15, 2011. That win essentially saved the 2010-11 season from going sideways.
This win could serve as a similar springboard of confidence.
“The only ones that really believed were the people at the Marquette game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
The Cardinals probably picked up a few more believers in a way they didn’t after beating then-No. 14 Ohio State in December. Louisville’s previous best win and only win against a ranked opponent didn’t look so great when the Buckeyes tumbled out of the top 25.
Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell said Saturday’s win could have implications come March.
“When we get and have each other’s back, it shows that this team can go as far as it wants to,” Harrell said. “When we dig down and play defense, it shows that we can stop anybody. I feel like we keep playing defense the way we did tonight, I feel like we’re going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.”
Before Saturday’s win, the Cardinals were starting to believe they played better on the road.
Guard Terry Rozier has even suggested the rims are too tight in the KFC Yum! Center, and that was the real reason for their shooting troubles. Although they still struggled -- shooting 43 percent from the field -- their comeback destroys that reasoning.
“We needed it real bad,” Rozier said. “We’ve been talking about treating the last couple of games like a tournament. We don’t want to lose. We don’t want to go home -- it’s that feeling.”
As much as Louisville needed to prove itself, Harrell needed it too.
He hadn’t made much of an impact against the Cardinals' highest-profile opponents this season. Harrell averaged nine points -- just four baskets in each game -- in losses to Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina.
But his energy helped fuel the Cardinals’ rally. Beyond his 22 points and 15 rebounds, Harrell’s will turned things around.
“I thought Montrezl was a little possessed,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “The second half, he seemed like he got every rebound.”
Pitino needed the win too.
He was 0-6 against North Carolina, which included three losses during his Kentucky tenure. That was the most losses he’s had against any opponent without a win.
“Real, real proud of our guys. Took a heck of an effort to win the game, but we believed we were going to win it,” Pitino said.
And with that, the Cardinals erased their doubts.