CRAWFORD BLOG | Final Four, Part 2: Thoughts on the ride to New - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD BLOG | Final Four, Part 2: Thoughts on the ride to New Orleans

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SOMEWHERE IN ALABAMA (WDRB) -- Heading west from Atlanta to New Orleans to cover the University of Louisville women's basketball team in the NCAA Final Four, so it's time for another disorganized ramble on this NCAA Tournament.

After U of L beat Wichita State in the national semifinals Saturday night, the locker room was wall-to-wall media. And the most crowded locker belonged to Tim Henderson.

That's right. Tim Henderson. As well it should have been, I might add. I bumped into Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com kind of standing back and watching the spectacle around him, and said, "Who would have ever thought we'd have to fight through a crowd to get to Tim Henderson?"

"That's what makes sports great," he said.

And he's right, of course.

It hasn't been that long ago that Rick Pitino told Henderson that he reminded him of Benjamin Button, the F. Scott Fitzgerald character who ages in reverse. (All right, Pitino was probably talking about the Brad Pitt film version of the story, but whatever).

"I did something in practice, and he told me I was like Benjamin Button, I started out here playing smart and had gotten more and more stupid," Henderson said.

Asked about the comment (before the Wichita State game), Pitino said, "Yes, but that was before Kevin Ware got hurt. Now, he's going to be great and a Hollywood  star of stars."

You couldn't write a plot line like Henderson's. Well, all right, maybe "Hoosiers" came close. His team was fading. He leans over on the bench and says to teammate Stephan Van Treese that things look bad and somebody better step up. Then he comes into the game and lights the match with two three-pointers.

Last year, The Courier-Journal left Henderson out of its Final Four poster section. He was wiped from Final Four existence.

"I didn't know that," Henderson told me Friday when I talked to him. "I'm glad I'm in it this year."

This year, Henderson is front-page news.

-- ESPN's Dana O'Neill gets credit for unearthing this nugget. Not only was Goldencents, the horse in which Rick Pitino is part-owner, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby, but he wore No. 5 (Kevin Ware's number) in the race, and the winner of the very next race at Santa Anita was named, Points Off The Bench.

Come on. I might have to revise my dismissal of destiny where this team is involved.

-- This probably was lost in all the stories from Saturday night, and I mentioned it briefly in my game story, but it deserves to be mentioned again. One reason the game was so special for Luke Hancock was that his parents were in attendance. His father is in bad health and hasn't made too many games this season. You got the sense listening to him that the opportunity to play that brilliantly in front of his father in that situation was something for which Hancock was very grateful. Everybody is playing for something more. We don't always know how much more.

-- It was a strange game to cover. The upper media seating is so far from the court that there were players I was having trouble distinguishing from each other, so I wound up watching on television in the press room. I had good company. Mitch Albom watched from across the table, Rick Bozich and Hoops Weiss were there, too, and Mike Lupica for part of it.

But I've got to say, the story you're able to write is very much affected by your vantage point of the game. I sat right behind Mike Krzyzewski for the U of L-Duke game. I came away thinking that the game column I wrote from U of L-Wichita State felt more distant.

-- I was the U of L beat writer when Rick Pitino was going through his decision-making process over whether to come to Louisville. Every once in a while, he'd float a trial balloon, usually through Pat Forde or Rick Bozich, and the response would be cataclysmic.

Right before taking the job, Pitino had one more serious offer, and he thought hard about it. In fact, Dick Vitale was lobbying him to take the job, and students on campus held a huge rally to try to sway his decision.

That school? Michigan.

-- I was there the last time Pitino and now-Michigan coach John Beilein met in the NCAA Tournament. Beilein's West Virginia team ran away to a 20-point lead, then Pitino's Cardinals, behind Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean, Larry O'Bannon and Ellis Myles.

-- U of L is sending busloads of fans and even its pep band on the trip from Atlanta to New Orleans. President James Ramsey, athletic director Tom Jurich and others in the official party are making the trip by plane.

ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo already has been to the Cardinals shootaround in New Orleans this morning. She ended a Tweet about the session with the hashtag "MadScientistAtWork." Walz's reputation is growing.

-- It's about a 7-hour drive from Atlanta to New Orleans and it's always tough to leave a day of advance reporting on a national championship game.

But in my mind, there really was no question over whether to make the trip or not. I was in school at U of L when the women's basketball team was playing games in Manual High School's gym. Cracking the upper echelon of this sport may be tougher than any in college sports.

The dominant programs in the women's games are truly dominant. For U of L to be making its second Final Four trip since 2009 was pretty remarkable.

But this trip isn't the first long one I've made for women's basketball. The night U of L lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight in 2009, I drove back to Louisville, got straight onto an early flight out and went to cover the women in a regional final in Raleigh, where they beat Maryland to earn the program's first-ever Final Four. Jody Demling and I were there for the paper, and no one else from the major media in Louisville. But it was worth being there.

Back in New Orleans, WDRB's team of Rick Bozich, Tom Lane, Candyce Clifft and Matt English will bring plenty of reports about the men's championship game preparations and surrounding hoopla.

-- Monique Reid, with her game tonight, will have played in more games than any women's player at U of L. No U of L athlete this season takes a back seat to her in terms of toughness or inspiration. She had microfracture knee surgery. She is far from 100 percent. Her practice time is limited. She does what she can. When she drove on Brittney Griner and earned the two free throws that sent U of L past Baylor -- as great an upset as U of L has ever had in a game of that magnitude -- it was a historic moment for the program. Free throws don't come much bigger, or more pressure-packed than that.

Reid was a ball-girl for the U of L program, grew up looking up to those players and coaches. I suspect one day she will be in the athletic Hall of Fame at the school.

-- More to come. Just passed one of U of L's official buses just past Montgomery. Decals from both Final Fours are on the back

-- For sportswriters, March can be the cruelest month. My 8-year-old son Henry is the lone Kentucky fan of my three kids, but he was particularly disappointed last night because the U of L win meant that I won't be home for his birthday, Monday. I hope he's doing all right today, but he was pretty disappointed last night. You always tell yourself you'll make it up to them somehow, but I don't know if you ever do. Anyway, let this serve as an early Happy Birthday for Henry. We'll celebrate together soon.

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