Upset in The Making?

Terrence Williams saw Louisville's season slipping away, and it was only November.

Williams and the Cardinals were in Las Vegas for a tournament when he found out senior center David Padgett had a broken kneecap and might not return this season.

Williams left Padgett's hotel room and started crying.

``There is new technology, you can drive some cars without a key, but he's the key to everything on our team,'' the junior forward said Wednesday. ``I knew it wasn't going to work.''

Williams' tears have dried up. The early prognosis was wrong. The Kansas transfer was back on the court in January, and he's now pain-free for the first time in years.

The 6-foot-11 Padgett's return to form has coincided with Louisville's best play of the season, with 11 wins in 13 games. The third-seeded Cardinals now hope Padgett's inside presence will be the key Thursday night in their East Regional semifinal against No. 2 seed Tennessee.

``He directs us,'' Williams said. ``He tells you to go backdoor before the backdoor opens. He's the coach on the floor, our point center. He just basically directs traffic. Without him, it's kind of hard.''

Louisville has weathered the loss of Padgett and another knee injury that sidelined starting forward Juan Palacios for the first nine games to become one of the most impressive NCAA tournament teams.

Entering off consecutive losses to Georgetown and Pittsburgh, the Cardinals (26-8) cruised past Boise State and Oklahoma by a combined 48 points last weekend. Louisville shot 58 percent and forced 35 turnovers.

The routs allowed Padgett to play only 40 minutes in the two games. Yet his heady play and ability to shoot with both hands gives coach Rick Pitino an inviting option inside as he eyes a sixth trip to the Final Four.

``I think what makes David so effective is his ability to pass the basketball when he gets double-teamed. He finds the open man,'' said Pitino, who is 7-0 in regional semifinals. ``He knows how to attack defenses. He knows how to attack slap-downs and trap-downs.''

Tennessee (31-4) is a 3-point underdog despite its higher seed due to concerns about its backcourt and shaky play last weekend. The Volunteers struggled to beat 15th-seeded American, then needed overtime to get by Butler.

With all four top seeds still alive in this region, coach Bruce Pearl knows the Volunteers have to be better.

``I don't think we've played our best game yet,'' Pearl said. ``And I can tell you looking at Washington State and North Carolina and Louisville, for this Tennessee team to advance, we're going to have to.''

Pearl hinted Wednesday he plans to stick with his decision to use J.P. Prince at point guard against Louisville's vaunted press. Prince made his first start of the season there against Butler, but made a couple of mistakes late in regulation and was replaced by former starter Ramar Smith in overtime.

``It's most difficult to do at that position, because he's your quarterback,'' Pearl said of the late-season switch. ``But I'm convinced if we don't make those adjustments we're not here today. And how J.P. handles Louisville's full-court pressure defense will be a big factor in the outcome.''

Tennessee also needs a better performance from senior shooting guard Chris Lofton. The Volunteers' leading scorer was held to single digits in each NCAA game last weekend, and injured his ankle in the first half of the Butler game.

Lofton did not practice on Monday and Tuesday. But Lofton, averaging 15.5 points and hitting 39 percent of his 3-pointers, took part in the open practice Wednesday without a brace. He ran full-court drills without any noticeable limp, and insisted he'll play.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Louisville –3 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 57% of bets for this game have been placed on Louisville -3 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

Playing Louisville means a little extra to Lofton, who grew up in Maysville, Ky., as a Cardinals fan.

``When we played them my freshman year, it mean a lot for trying to get back at them for not recruiting me so hard,'' Lofton said. ``It's four years later and we're trying to go to the Elite Eight.''

Making it there for the first time in school history will require beating a team that is similar in style and depth. Both teams use constant pressure defense and regularly use 11 players.

But Tennessee doesn't have a player on its roster as tall as Padgett. Williams and Padgett combine for more than 22 points and nearly 12 rebounds a game.

It was that combination Williams thought could allow Louisville to make a deep NCAA tournament run. It's why his tears turned to anger and then encouragement for Padgett to work his way back from his knee injury.

``He did get mad at me for getting hurt,'' Padgett said. ``I said, 'Be patient. I'll be back, don't listen to anybody.' And sure enough, one day I was out there.''

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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