CRAWFORD | Cards battle back from the brink, beat Georgia Tech 5 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cards battle back from the brink, beat Georgia Tech 52-51

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ATLANTA (WDRB) — The last time the University of Louisville was in this city, the Cardinals were cutting down the nets and Rick Pitino & Company were at the top of the college basketball world.

Monday night they rolled into town to face struggling Georgia Tech and the curtain appeared to be coming down on any remnant of that. Before the game, Pitino read the players a long list of things people were saying about them in the wake of point guard Chris Jones' dismissal. Yahoo! ESPN. The Sporting News. CBS. They were saying the Cardinals were headed for an early NCAA exit.

“That's not what we're about, fellas,” Pitino said he told them. “We've got two of the better players in the country. Our freshmen are getting better. They're coming of age. That's not going to happen to us.”

At halftime, he might've wondered if he'd perhaps given the wrong speech. The The Cardinals made just seven baskets in the first half. They trailed by seven points. They were equal-opportunity bricklayers — layups, free-throws, three-pointers —  they all clanged off the rims loud enough to reverberate down the street to the Georgia Dome. The Cards trailed by 13 with 9:40 to play. Lights out.

But as this team has done before, just as I was about to put the finishing touches on a column putting this team and season largely to bed, they kicked off the covers and roared back for a 52-51 victory.

A day after point guard Jones was dismissed from the team for good, U of L reshuffled, shook off the ill effects and emerged with a victory that was perhaps big only in proportion to how devastating it would have been if it had lost.

Sometimes, players just have to make plays.

Example one: The game tied, less than 25 seconds left, Terry Rozier was streaking down the court for the ball. Pitino turned to face him, both hands raised, one step out on the court, like a third base coach trying to hold up a runner. Rozier blew past the sign.

“I saw him coming out a little bit saying stop, but it was just me and one man and I went a little tunnel vision and I had to go and get the layup,” Rozier said. “I've been getting my shot blocked for the last week, even today I got my shot blocked three times, but I had my mind made up I was going to make the layup. It was time for me to go.”

He went. So did the layup. The Cards led 52-50 with 20 seconds left.

More player input. During a timeout just prior, Pitino had moved to take Chinanu Onuaku out of the game and replace him with freshman Anas Mahmoud. Montrezl Harrell stopped him. He said he thought the team would need Onuaku's defense.

Pitino was worried they would foul Onuaku. They did. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, and that led to a game-tying shot for Georgia Tech to make it 48-48.

“I wanted to kill Trezl,” Pitino said. “Then Nanu blocks the shot that seals the game for us. So if Trezl doesn't get picked in the lottery I'll hire him as assistant coach.”

Rozier finished with 22 points on 8 of 19 shooting. He's been cold the previous five games. And he's been hearing about it. He didn't care.

“I've got a strong belief in myself,” he said. “Not a lot of my fans do. But hey, that's fine. I got a lot of little Tweets recently. You know what they say, they're going to love you, they hate you, they'll love you again. But I believe in myself.”

Pitino started freshman Shaqquan Aaron at the two guard to reward him for some good practice days. And he told the freshmen to get ready to contribute.

“We're a totally different basketball team now,” Pitino said. “Everybody's got to play. Everybody's got to mature.”

The Cards came from 13 down in the second half. Rozier made back-to-back threes. Blackshear grabbed an offensive rebound, passed back out, then spotted up for a three, demanded the ball and drained the shot to tie the game at 46-46 with 1:50 left. Then, after missing his first four free throws, he nailed two with five seconds remaining to put the Cards up four and seal the win.

Two signs of growth. Onuaku blocked a Travis Jorgensen layup with seven seconds left and the Cards leading by two. It was virtually the same play Marcus Paige ran for North Carolina beat the Cardinals in Chapel Hill.

The Cards also stayed close despite their poor first-half offense.

“Early in the season it would have bothered us,” Pitino said. “When Wayne missed his first two free throws of the game, it always happens, you lose your confidence. And I really got after him at halftime. I said, man, you were open twice you didn't shoot. There's only one way to get hot in basketball and that's to shoot. And Terry Rozier took it to heart. He had a first-half that wasn't going his way, then he was brilliant in the second half. Guys just played awesome defense. . . . Then like most of our games we just come alive in the second half. It's surprising a little bit because of the amount of pressure we put defensively, that we had those legs in the second half.”

Harrell finished with eight points and eight rebounds. Blackshear had 10 points and eight rebounds. Ounce had five boards, Quentin Snider had four rebounds and four assists.

There's no telling whether that means the Cards will have legs moving forward after this win. But their prospects are certainly better than they looked at halftime.

“We're kind of, I don't want to say desperate, but we're getting doubted,” Rozier said. “Everybody's doubting us. You see it all on ESPN. You see everybody saying we're not going to get the job done. We've got to go, man. We've got to stick together. There's going to be a lot of opinions going on. . . . We've just got to come together.”

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