Louisville needs Terry Rozier to hit next gear

Pitino Talks Close Win Over Georgia Tech (1:38)

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino discussed the Cardinals' 52-51 victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. (1:38)

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, his right hand frantically extended with 20 seconds left in the game, was calling for Terry Rozier to stop in transition.

For the Cardinals' sake, they better hope Rozier is just getting started.

It appeared the sophomore guard either ignored or simply didn't hear Pitino's late-game request and split Georgia Tech defenders Charles Mitchell and Tadric Jackson to score the go-ahead basket. His final points gave him a game-high 22 and the Cardinals the lead for good in their 52-51 win over the Yellow Jackets.

Rozier's continued drive may be how Louisville saves a season that took a turn in the wrong direction last week.

Senior point guard Chris Jones was originally suspended for Wednesday's loss at Syracuse, but returned to help Louisville rally for a 55-53 win over Miami on Saturday. He was dismissed from the team for good on Sunday.

Reports swirled just before the Cardinals' tipoff in Atlanta that Jones sent a threatening message in the last week to a woman he had a relationship with.

Jones was arguably the team's best defender, leading the team in steals. He led the team in assists, too, and was their second leading scorer in ACC play, averaging 16 points per game.

Even with Jones in the lineup, Louisville had been struggling to score this season. The Cardinals entered the game ranked 88th in adjusted offense according to Ken Pomeroy. After their performance they dropped to 103rd.

While Jones wasn't exactly the leader of the team, in many ways he was the catalyst on both ends of the floor. His absence, especially at this time of the season, presents a huge challenge for Louisville to overcome.

Rozier might be up to the task, but in doing so he'll likely have to stay off the ball.

Shaqquan Aaron replaced Jones in the starting lineup, which moved Rozier over to point guard, but he's clearly no replacement.

It was the second start of the season for Aaron, a 6-foot-7 freshman, who only played five minutes in his first start against Long Beach State in December. He played just three minutes and scored two points against Georgia Tech.

Pitino may be forced to stick with freshman point guard Quentin Snider for the bulk of Jones's minutes just so he can keep Rozier at shooting guard.

Rozier struggled with his shot in the first half, gong 1-of-7, but he made 7 of 12 shots in the second and ignited a 23-7 run that helped the Cardinals close out the game.

Of course, he won't -- nor can't -- do it all by himself. Senior forward Wayne Blackshear knocked down a 3-pointer that tied the game with 1:50 left. Junior forward Montrezl Harrell added a key steal with less than 14 seconds left to preserve a two-point lead.

But Blackshear is too inconsistent to elevate the team. He has proven to be best when only considered a role player. And Harrell already had his status as captain stripped for not knowing how to be subtle when criticizing his teammates.

Rozier, who leads the team in scoring at 17.6 per game, can be what the others are not. And Louisville will need him to be. He was the only player on either squad to play the entire 40 minutes. That brings his total to 119 minutes over the past three games. Rozier has become that indispensable .

There will be time for the Cardinals to worry about their NCAA seeding, which currently appears about as stable as the last bit of land above a sinkhole. But now is not that time. Louisville just needed some stability to calm the tremors caused by losing Jones.

For about 30 minutes against Georgia Tech, the Cardinals looked like they had no direction. The Yellow Jackets, with just three wins in ACC play, played like the better team. These are the same Yellow Jackets that twice had players lose the ball by dribbling off of their feet in the game's decisive final minute. So beating Georgia Tech is certainly not something that will be wildly celebrated.

But in doing so the Cardinals gained some stability and the knowledge that they can move on without Jones as long as Rozier is leading the way.