published Monday, April 1st, 2013

Wiedmer: Is Louisville king, queen of college hoops world?

  • photo
    Louisville's Russ Smith (2) dribbles up court Sundayagainst Duke during their Midwest Regional final in the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    Baylor forward Brooklyn Pope, rear, and Louisville guard Jude Schimmel (22) grab a rebound Sunday in their regional semifinal in the women's NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City. Louisville won 82-81.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When it came to college basketball this Easter weekend — be it the men's game or the women's model — it was unquestionably Louisville's world. The rest of us were just trying not to get flattened by the Derby City Destroyers.

First the U of L men overcame the most horrific injury any of us may ever witness on a basketball court to crush Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional final and join Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State at the Final Four this week inside Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

Despite reserve guard and Georgia prep star Kevin Ware being carted off on a stretcher after suffering a compound fracture of his right leg in the opening period -- "We said, 'Get Kevin home,'" at every timeout," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino -- the Cards outscored the Dookies by 19 points in the final half.

Yet hard as this may be to believe, that may merely have been a warm-up act to what U of L's distaff counterparts accomplished a couple of hours later when they shocked defending national champion Baylor 82-81 in a regional semifinal.

Up next for the women Cardinals on Tuesday evening: The Tennessee Lady Vols, who just might deliver coach Holly Warlick her first Final Four berth in her first season as head coach if they can keep Louisville from hitting the same preposterous 16 of 25 3-pointers the Cards hit against the Bears.

Not that most UT men's fans will want to revisit their last two coaching hires this week after watching Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall guide the Shockers to their first Final Four berth since 1965.

Former UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said thanks but no thanks to Marshall in both 2005 and 2011, which didn't upset much of the Big Orange Nation back then, but may cause it to revaluate those decisions heading into this weekend's 75th Final Four, given that UT is zero-for-75 in its attempts to reach the men's final weekend.

This isn't to say Bruce Pearl wouldn't have gotten the Vols there at some point if he hadn't lied to NCAA gumshoes about minor recruiting wrongs and been forced out two years ago. It's not to say his replacement, Cuonzo Martin, can't get there in the future, especially since his Vols beat the Shockers 69-60 this past December inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

After all, Pearl came within a single basket of making the 2010 Final Four. Assuming Jarnell Stokes doesn't listen to the wrong folks and jump to the NBA, and Jeronne Maymon returns, and super signee Robert Hubbs is as good as advertised, Cuonzo's Commandos just might have the makings of a national title contender a year from now, despite missing the tourney entirely this season.

But Marshall's already there. In fact, he's reached the tourney twice in the last two years. Lost on a buzzer beater in his opening game a year ago. Reached the Final Four this season by knocking off top-seeded Gonzaga and second-seeded Ohio State. Pretty strong stuff for a No. 9 seed.

Just don't try telling the sixth-year Wichita coach that besting Ohio State was that much of a shocker.

"I don't think we're Cinderella at all," he told the media after Saturday's win over the Buckeyes. "I think Cinderella just found one slipper. I don't think she found four. If you get to this point, you can win the whole thing."

Each of these four schools can win the whole thing. Yet in the oddest of storylines, the sickening injury to Ware may make heavy favorite Louisville the emotional Cinderella, a "Win One for Ware" mentality possibly sweeping over the Georgia Dome this weekend, given his Peach State roots and heart-wrenching video of his teammates and Pitino in horrified tears immediately after his lower right leg snapped.

And only the most heartless among us couldn't conjure up our own tear or two when U of L teammate Chane Behanan slipped on Ware's No. 5 jersey near the close of the Cards' victory. Or when he pulled it off a few minutes later so the entire team could cheer it.

Yet had Pearl remained, Ware might well have been a Vol, given he initially signed with UT before being released from his scholarship exactly two years ago Sunday after Pearl was fired.

So instead of possibly playing for the Big Orange and maybe being coached by Marshall, Ware must now watch his U of L teammates face Marshall's Shockers in Saturday's first semifinal, with Syracuse-Michigan on tap for the nightcap.

Said Ware to the Cards before he was wheeled from the court: "Don't worry about me. Go win this thing."

Here's guessing he meant the whole thing, which Louisville should accomplish a week from tonight when it defeats Syracuse for the third time this season.

Just don't expect the U of L women to join them in becoming the first school since UConn in 2004 to win both the men's and women's championships in the same year.

Almost any program would need more than 48 hours to come back to earth from shocking Baylor, which is why the Lady Vols should end the Cards' run Tuesday night, returning to the Final Four for the first time since they won it all in 2008.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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