CRAWFORD | On the doorstep of win No. 700, a look at Pitino's 10 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | On the doorstep of win No. 700, a look at Pitino's 10 best

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is about to become just the 20th Division I coach in NCAA history to reach the 700-win milestone, if not Wednesday night against Cleveland State, then soon.

Had he not checked out of the college game for a three NBA stints, nor taken over so many programs that needed rebuilding, he likely would have a couple hundred more.

But the accomplishment is significant. I'm not going to try to rank his greatest win. How do you rank one NCAA championship over another one?

I will, however, take a stab at listing his ten biggest wins in the college game -- taking into account each stop in his career (and recognizing that some of his most famous games, it turns out, are losses). With No. 700 on the doorstep, we'll stick with victories, and go in reverse chronological order. I do this realizing I've left out some big ones. Feel free to add to this in the comments section.

LOUISVILLE

April 8, 2013 - Louisville 82, Michigan 76, NCAA Championship game.
It was the end of a remarkable series of events for Pitino. His election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame happened one day prior to the title game, and he won it with a team that had been years in the making, and that had fallen to Kentucky in the national semifinals a year earlier. With the win, he became the first coach to win an NCAA title at two different schools. As in many of his signature wins, the Cardinals had to erase an early deficit — this one of 12 points, before winning the school's third NCAA title and first since 1986. Read about it here.

March 16, 2013 - Louisville 78, Syracuse 61, Big East Tournament  championship game.
For Pitino, the Big East Conference is a thread that runs nearly throughout his career. He was bitterly opposed to the breakup of the league, and badly wanted to win U of L's last conference championship and tournament in the Big East. The title game setting was all he could've hoped for — against Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. The start to the game was not. The Cardinals fell behind by 16 points, but they stormed out in the second half and took control of the game. They went on a 27-3 run that swelled to a 44-10 advantage, and wound up winning big before a crowd that included former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who visited with the team after the game. Read about it here.

March 24, 2012 - Louisville 72, Florida 68, NCAA West Regional Final.
The Cardinals trailed by 11 points with eight minutes to play and were in some significant foul trouble. Point guard Peyton Siva, in fact, wound up fouling out. But some huge play down the stretch by freshman Chane Behannan bailed the Cards' out, and junior guard Russ Smith took over the point duties to lead the Cards home, and back to the Final Four, over Billy Donovan's Florida Gators. Read my Courier-Journal game column here.  A blog entry on the game here.

Jan. 15, 2011 — Louisville 71, Marquette 70. The Miracle on Main.
The Cardinals did little right in the first 34 minutes of this game, but trailing by 18 with just 5:44 to play, they went to work and wound up coming all the way back. Again, a repeating theme, they completed another historic comeback win that ended with a Kyle Kuric layup with four seconds to play to clinch it.

March 26, 2005 — Louisville 93, West Virginia 85 (OT), NCAA West Regional. U of L went into the 2005 tournament feeling it hadn't been fairly seeded. But it turned that around when it went to Albuquerque, N.M., and knocked off top-seeded Washington in the round of 16. In the regional final, the Cards met coach John Beilein and his team of sharpshooters from West Virginia, led by Kevin Pittsnogle. The Mountaineers built a 20-point halftime lead, but Taquan Dean, Larry O'Bannon, Francisco Garcia, Ellis Myles and the rest started to chip away in the second half. By the time they were finished chipping, the Cardinals were back in the Final Four for the first time since Denny Crum led the school to its second NCAA championship in 1986. And Pitino had achieved another NCAA first, taking a third school to the Final Four.

KENTUCKY

April 1, 1996 — Kentucky 76, Syracuse 67, NCAA Championship game.
Pitino returned Kentucky to the mountaintop in his seventh season after taking the reins of the tradition-rich but probation-ravaged program. The Wildcats finished one of the more dominant runs in tournament history — they beat their first four tournament opponents by an average of 28.3 points. They were in a fight with John Calipari's Massachusetts team in the national semifinals, but avenged one of their two losses of the season with a seven-point victory. Senior Tony Delk hit seven three-pointers to score 24 points and freshman Ron Mercer made 8 of 12 shots from the field and scored 20 to give UK its sixth NCAA championship.

Feb. 15, 1994 — Kentucky 99, LSU 95, The Mardi Gras Miracle. It was named by USA Today the greatest comeback in sports history and it stands as the biggest road comeback in NCAA basketball history. The Wildcats trailed by 31 points with 15:34 left in the game, but charged back to win by four. First it was Chris Harrison burying threes. Then Jeff Brassow. When Walter McCarty buried a three-pointer to take the lead, it was a rather surreal moment. Then there was Travis Ford hitting a pair of free throws, and leaping up and down after the last one. From that point, it seemed anything was possible for UK's program. Watch some highlights here.

Feb. 15, 1990 — Kentucky 100, LSU 95. If you asked me to pick one game to typify Rick Pitino's college coaching career, and Kentucky basketball, for that matter, this would be that game. There was no way in the world that Kentucky should've beaten this LSU team. The Tigers were ranked No. 9 in the nation and were atop the SEC standings. They were led by the SEC's top scorer, Chris Jackson, and had Shaquille O'Neal in the middle. Pitino had a bunch of kids from Kentucky who stayed around after the NCAA took its pound of flesh with sanctions — John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus, Richie Farmer and Reggie Hanson among them, plus Sean Woods. The game couldn't even be televised because of NCAA sanctions. But the crowd that packed Rupp Arena — 24,301, then a record for the building — showed up to pay its respect to a beloved group of players who had scrapped all season, and was rewarded with a bit of history. UK led by 23, then lost that lead as Jackson put up 41 points, but held on at the end because of some free-throws by Farmer. “My esteem for this team can go no higher,” Pitino said after the game.

PROVIDENCE

March 21, 1987 — Providence 88, Georgetown 73, NCAA Southeast Regional Final.
This was the birthplace of Pitino's coaching legend. In Louisville's Freedom Hall, the coach mourning the death of his infant son Daniel didn't even come to the pregame news conferences. But his team, led by a point guard named Billy Donovan, was inspired, somehow, to win for him. Shooting the three-pointer without conscience (14 of 22), Providence shocked Alabama 103-82 in the NCAA's Sweet 16. But surely that would be the end of the Cinderella story. Providence would play Georgetown in the regional final. The Hoyas had beaten the Friars by 17 and 11 during the regular season, and beat them by 18 in the Big East Tournament. In this game, however, Pitino anticipated that John Thompson would push his defense out to stop the three, so he decided to go inside. Providence played smothering defense, and got 20 points from Donovan who slashed inside the Georgetown defense to get to the foul line, where he scored 16 points. Pitino had his first trip to the Final Four, where he got a national introduction with a team he would never forget. The next season, he was coach of the team he followed as a boy -- the New York Knicks.

BOSTON U.

March 12, 1983 — Boston U. 63, Holy Cross 62, North Atlantic Tournament championship.
Pitino has referenced this game often in the years since it was played. He took over a BU program that had won just 17 games in four years and won 17 his first season in 1979. He was on the verge of the NCAA Tournament in 1980 but lost in the conference tournament finals. Again in 1982 a one-point loss in the conference tournament knocked his team out. In the huddle of that game against Northeastern, Pitino referenced an earlier loss to his team and told his players they couldn't make the same mistake again. They wound up missing a game-winner. A year later against Holy Cross, Pitino said he had learned something. “We didn't talk at all about misses. It was all positive. I told them, when you make the shot, make sure you get back on defense,” Pitino said. BU made the shot, and Pitino was in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. He'd leave for an assistant coaching job with Hubie Brown after that season, but had solidified his thinking on conditioning and full-court pressure while in Boston.

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