Louisville 78, No. 1 Syracuse 68

A reserve guard that Louisville coach Rick Pitino considers so

bashful, he sounds shy even when he yells, made sure to send

venerable Freedom Hall out with one more memorable game.

Kyle Kuric scored all of his career-high 22 points in the second

half, and the Cardinals stunned No. 1 Syracuse 78-68 on Saturday

before a record-crowd of 20,135 at the 54-year-old venue. It was

the final game there before Louisville moves into a new downtown

arena.

“It’s an unbelievable moment,” Kuric said. “It’s what every

kid dreams of.”

Kuric may have also assured Louisville (20-11, 11-7 Big East) a

return trip to the NCAA tournament by sweeping the regular-season

series from the Orange (28-3, 15-3), whose only other loss came

against No. 17 Pittsburgh.

“These seniors have never gone to an NIT,” Pitino said. “And

now they never will.”

Although Syracuse led by eight points late in the first half,

Kuric was a one-man wrecking crew in the second. He made 9 of 11

shots – including four 3-pointers – to make for another happy

ending at Freedom Hall, which has seen its share of historic

games.

“There have been 54 years of great basketball, and for us to

come out and beat the No. 1 team is a great going away present for

all our fans,” senior Edgar Sosa said.

Trailing 42-39 early in the second half, the Cardinals found

their inside game with three straight baskets in the paint that

gave them the lead for good. Kuric had two of them, a fastbreak

dunk and layup.

In a span of just over five minutes, Kuric also had all four of

his 3-pointers. After his second one, Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine

immediately answered with a 3, so Kuric simply answered right back

with another one. Jardine finished with 20 points.

With under four minutes left, it was Kuric’s dunk that pushed

the Louisville lead to 10, and he got another one on a break that

buried the Orange with under two minutes left.

“Everybody that comes off their bench is capable of hitting

three or four 3s,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He might be

the best at doing that.”

Louisville took 40 3-point attempts in the game, making 12 of

them – including three by Sosa, who had 12 points.

It was a completely different game in the first half, when

Syracuse dominated the paint, getting 26 points there compared to

12 for the Cardinals.

Syracuse took an early 21-20 lead with more than six minutes to

go in the first half on a dunk by Rick Jackson, then stretched it

to a game-high eight points a couple minutes later after a

3-pointer and fastbreak layup by Jardine.

Sosa nailed a 3 seconds before halftime to make it 35-30 at the

break.

Boeheim said Louisville seems to have deciphered the Orange’s

zone defense, and the players said they were having an off shooting

night.

“We just weren’t flowing in our offense,” Arinze Onuaku

said.

Although the Cardinals connected on 46 percent of their shots

and the Orange 44 percent, the two were cold from the gate,

combining for 11 shots but no points over the opening three

minutes. Jerry Smith finally hit consecutive 3s for the Cardinals,

and later turned in one of the more dazzling plays of the game,

grabbing a steal out of midair and cruising the other way to finish

with a one-handed dunk.

Smith was sidelined the second half after spraining the thumb on

his right hand.

This one had all the pageantry of the final Louisville game in

one of college basketball’s most storied arenas. The stands were

filled long before tipoff, and fans waved towels with glowing red

flashlights during player introductions.

Pitino, sporting a bright red suit coat to match the attire of

most fans in attendance, introduced the team’s seniors before the

game and expressed some sentimental thoughts about Freedom

Hall.

“Never as a coach did I feel pressure,” Pitino said. “Tonight

I felt pressure for the first time. I woke up about 2:30 in the

morning and said, ‘What if we lose?’ No bid, the legends come all

this way.’ It was like a nightmare.”

Freedom Hall has hosted six national championship games, a

handful of NCAA tournament regional finals and 682 Louisville

victories.

Denny Crum, who led the Cardinals to national titles in 1980 and

1986 and whose name is adorned on the court, was introduced at

halftime alongside players from those teams.

“I love them all,” Crum said. “It’s just really fun to be

here, be around them.”