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NEW YORK (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville basketball team's 74-55 victory over Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament was punctuated by a visit from former president Bill Clinton, his third post-game visit to the Cardinals, and second to their locker room.
Photos of the visit quickly spread through the players' Instagram accounts and other methods, with one released by U of L even showing Chane Behanan holding up "bunny ears" behind Clinton.
(Incidentally, the Cardinals are unbeaten in tournaments or regionals that have included public "bunny ear" incidents. Russ Smith placed bunny ears over Pitino after an NCAA regional victory last season in Portland.)
Pitino and Clinton go back to the days when Pitino appeared in public with Clinton the candidate during a rally in Kentucky while Pitino was University of Kentucky coach.
"He's a walking encyclopedia," Pitino said. "He can talk about anything you want. If they put him on Jeopardy! he'd win going away."
Clinton was familiar with some of U of L's players, even shared some stories about Senegal with Cardinal center Gorgui Dieng.
"He's got swag to him," Behanan said.
The former prez remarked to ESPN that Louisville sent quite a few fans to Madison Square Garden for the event. Pitino said he hoped his players realized what a special opportunity meeting him was.
"He was just telling a lot of stories. I knew him back at Kentucky, when he came to the University of Kentucky, I was able to introduce him on campus," Pitino said. "At that time, Republicans were going to win the state and he overturned it, and he got elected by, I think, two percentage points. Since that point, we've been very friendly toward each other."
-- Tony Barnhart, the former writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now football analyst and writer for CBS Sports, sat beside me at U of L's post-game press conference and offered an opinion about the Cards.
"Granted, I haven't seen them play in person in a couple of years," he said, "but you can't get an appreciation of how relentless their defense is unless you see it in person."
-- Tuesday night, Pitino and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim were eating at the same fancy New York restaurant. On his way out, Boeheim, whose team will be playing in the ACC in 2013-14, a year before U of L makes the move, stopped by and told Pitino, "Well, I guess we'll be eating at Denny's next season."
-- Villanova coach Jay Wright came away extremely impressed with the Cardinals.
"This team could win a National Championship," Wright said. "Louisville, this is a really good team. You take their talent and then put on top of that the fact that they've been there, that experience is so valuable. If you look at all of our teams that have advanced, the year before, when we went to final eight, the year before we went to Sweet 16, the year before we went to Final Four, the year before we went to Sweet 16. They get that. They went to the Final Four, they're going back through this again. This is a very good team. We lost to a really good team."
FAST BREAK POINTS:
-- Russ Smith's 28 points matched the most by a U of L player in Big East Tournament history. Edgar Sosa had 28 against Cincinnati in the 2010 championship.
-- Smith has made 176 free throws this season, and needs just two more to break the school's single season record of 177 makes set in 1967-68 by Wes Unseld.
-- With three steals, Peyton Siva moved into second place on U of L's all time list. His next steal will tie him with Darrell Griffith (230).
-- The victory marked the senior class' 102nd win to put their record at 102-38. It is the sixth-most wins by a senior class in school history.
-- U of L has won eight of its last nine games in Madison Square Garden, and five straight in Big East Tournament competition, the fifth-longest streak in tournament history.