A poster hangs in Louisville's locker room back home. In the center of the poster is a picture of the Cardinals' 2005 Final Four team in its huddle, ready to win another game. Beneath the poster are these words: San Antonio 2008. Louisville players slap that poster every time they leave the locker room, but until Thursday, even they weren't sure they could earn their way to San Antonio.
In Louisville's closet of a locker room Thursday at Charlotte Bobcats Arena, point guard
The Cardinals, a group nearly written off after two critical early season injuries, roared into the Elite Eight with a 79-60 win Thursday against second-seeded Tennessee. Saturday, they'll be the ultimate underdogs when they face top-seeded North Carolina in its own backyard with a trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance.
They wouldn't want it any other way. "If it's a road game," Williams said, "it's a road game."
Though Louisville earned its No. 3 seed, the Cardinals flew into the NCAA tournament a bit under the radar. They entered the season with plenty of hype, but injuries to seniors
Louisville players knew things might get sloppy against Tennessee; both teams love to run and press. Either the teams would break the scoreboard or they would rack up turnovers. They chose the latter. Louisville committed 14 first-half turnovers to Tennessee's 11, but the Cardinals dominated on the boards and went into the break up seven. That wasn't good enough for coach
Things didn't get much better when the Cardinals emerged from the locker room. The Vols scored the first six points of the half, cutting Louisville's lead to 37-36 on a
They went on a 13-3 run as sophomore forward
"He's always had great skills," Pitino said. "Now he's acquired a work ethic. He's really worked hard for the first time in his life."
Lofton wasn't the only Vol who struggled. The point guard tandem of
The Vols, who still never have advanced past the Sweet 16, expected so much more from this season. Coach
Shortly after Pearl said those words, Lofton sat in a chair in the center of the Vols' locker room with tears streaming down his face. In the corner, Chism said he regretted sending Lofton and his fellow seniors out on such a sour note. "We can't blame it on the refs," Chism said. "We can't blame anybody. It was our fault."
Meanwhile, the celebration continued on the Louisville side. Williams thought about the poster back at the Cardinals' old Kentucky home. He touched it so many times, but San Antonio always seemed so far away. It doesn't anymore. "That poster has been up there since I was a freshman. ... We just always fell short," Williams said. "Now we're one game away. It's more real."