Saturday March 28th, 2009

It seemed Louisville point forward Terrence Williams, lacking any other obvious motivator midway through Friday's second half, wanted only to test himself. He looked at the future pro standing close enough to smell his chewing gum and figured, what the heck? With Arizona forward Chase Budinger's open palm centimeters from his nose, Williams drilled a three-pointer from the wing. Then, as the scoreboard blinked to reflect Louisville's new 34-point lead, Williams turned to the crowd, grinned and shook his head.

The look said it all. The Sweet 16 isn't supposed to be that easy, but Friday, the top-seeded Cardinals proved why the NCAA selection committee made Louisville the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. "Everything we tried," Williams said, "worked."

As they rolled to a 103-64 victory [Recap | Box Score], the Cardinals shot 57.6 percent from the field. They set a school record for points in an NCAA tournament game. Five players scored at least 13, led by forward Earl Clark's 19. Of Louisville's 38 field goals, 29 were assisted. The Cardinals racked up 10 steals. For good measure, they made 13 of 14 from the line.

So efficient was Louisville that when the Cardinals walked into the locker room up 49-28 at the half, Coach Rick Pitino could find nothing to nitpick. "Coach was speechless at halftime," reserve guard Will Scott said. "I've never seen that before. He'll probably have more to say tomorrow at practice."

Pitino's only beef was with some of his backups, who got carried away and began dunking in the waning minutes. Pitino opened his postgame press conference with an apology to Arizona. Then he poured on the praise. "We've had some really good Sweet 16 games," Pitino said. "But this was a dominating offensive performance, fed off of defense and passing."

Undoubtedly, Pitino will ratchet up the intensity on a team with a nucleus that came one classic Tyler Hansbrough performance away from reaching the Final Four last year. So after a few smiles and a locker room dance to a beat from master locker percussionist -- and point guard -- Edgar Sosa, the Cardinals turned serious. "This is nothing," said Williams, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists. "This is just another step."

Meanwhile, the Wildcats can rest after a tumultuous five-month span that began in October with the abrupt resignation of their lonftime coach, Lute Olson, and ended with them in the Sweet 16 being led by interim coach Russ Pennell, who has almost zero chance at being retained, and assistant Mike Dunlap, who turned down the interim job before it was offered to Pennell. Budinger, forward Jordan Hill and guard Nic Wise will have to decide this offseason whether they want to turn pro or play for their fourth coach in four seasons.

"This is the best team ever since I've been here," Hill said. "We've been through a lot of ups and downs and people doubting us -- people saying we shouldn't have been in the tournament. Now we've made it to the Sweet 16 and played against the No. 1 team in the tournament, so it's a real blessing and a really good feeling."

A reporter asked Pennell about his own "uncertain future." "It's pretty certain," Pennell cracked. Beyond the obvious, Pennell declined to speculate on his future. "This has been an incredible year," Pennell said. "And the guys did exactly what I asked them to do -- to put all their own agendas on hold for 2008-09. And I did the same thing. What we need to do is enjoy the season for a day or two and then we'll all move forward and see where that takes us."

The Cardinals know where they're going -- to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season. And though guard Jerry Smith (16 points) isn't sure Louisville can replicate Friday's dominance, he'll take a reasonable facsimile and a trip to the Final Four. "It's going to be tough to duplicate playing as well as we did tonight," Smith said. "I think this is the best we played all season. I hope we can just keep it going."

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