LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Louisville coach Rick Pitino started sweating through his all-white suit while pacing the sidelines during the first half against No. 6 Georgetown on Saturday. He decided at the half it was time to get back to basics.
So, apparently, did his team.
Clad in a more traditional black suit in the second half, Pitino watched the Cardinals return to the fundamentals that have keyed their rise through the Big East. Louisville shut down the Hoyas over the final 20 minutes for a convincing 59-51 victory to shake up a conference race that for weeks appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
David Padgett scored 18 points, Jerry Smith added 16 and the Cardinals (18-6, 8-3 Big East) held Georgetown (19-3, 9-2) to 20 points in the second half, snapping the Hoyas’ six-game winning streak by playing the kind of clampdown defense that has become Georgetown’s trademark.
“This is the best win I’ve ever experienced as a player,” Padgett said. “It all starts with defense. We started the game, I think we might have been a little nervous. In the second half we played defense the way we’re all capable of.”
The Cardinals held the Hoyas to just 35 percent shooting in the second half, keeping Georgetown without a field goal for a decisive eight-minute stretch in which Louisville took command.
Austin Freeman and Roy Hibbert led the Hoyas with 14 points apiece, but Georgetown fell apart during an uncharacteristically sloppy second half.
Louisville harried Georgetown with its press, forcing the normally deliberate Hoyas into 15 turnovers. When the Hoyas did manage to get into their offensive sets, they rushed shots and hardly played with the efficiency that has carried them all season.
“I think (Louisville) just executed extremely well,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III. “It’s the simple things. It’s a simple game. They executed and we didn’t.”
The Hoyas appeared to be in total control at the half, bullying their way to an eight-point lead that grew to 33-23 moments into the second on a hook shot by Hibbert.
Louisville, which had stumbled through an erratic first half in which it had more turnovers (10) than field goals (seven), suddenly righted itself as Pitino urged them not to panic.
“I just told them to play it possession by possession, play great defense,” Pitino said. “As long as you play great defense, you’ll always have a chance. We turned up the pressure in our press and that helped.”
So did an offense that stopped trying to impose its will against the bigger, stronger Hoyas. Rather than rush shots and force passes into tight spaces as they did in the first half, the Cardinals became more methodical in the second. The result was better shots, the unchallenged kind that Pitino said are the key to his team’s success.
Terrence Williams got it going with a couple of runners in the lane and the Cardinals took off from there. Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers during an 11-0 run that gave the Cardinals a 44-37 lead with 9:24 to play.
“You can’t settle for jumpers, you have to go to the basket and that’s what we did tonight,” Williams said.
The Hoyas cut the lead to 44-41 on a hook by Hibbert with 7:30 remaining, but the Hoyas would get no closer. Padgett hit two free throws and Earl Clark drilled a 3-pointers as Louisville’s lead grew to 10.
Georgetown managed one last scare, getting within 54-49 on a runner by Jonathan Wallace with 52 seconds remaining. But Padgett added a pair of late free throws and the Cardinals had their first signature win of the season.
“We were able to get stops down the stretch,” Smith said. “It was a huge win for us, it lets us know if we work hard, we can become a Final Four team like they were last year.”
Padgett and Hibbert battled to a draw in a matchup of two of the nation’s most polished big men, each scoring on the other in a variety of old-school moves.
“This is a tough one,” Hibbert said. “Padgett, he can really pass the ball. He was tough to guard.”
Ultimately, however, Padgett had a little more help, with Smith hitting big shots and the Cardinals swiping 10 steals.
Louisville’s win pulled the Cardinals within a game of the front-running Hoyas, who hold a half-game lead over No. 22 Notre Dame, which knocked off No. 16 Marquette earlier Saturday. Louisville and Georgetown meet again on March 8.
For the Cardinals, the win validates the progress they’ve made over the last two months after a slow start in which Padgett and forward Juan Palacios were plagued by injures. Those days appear to be long gone now.
“This definitely put us in the right direction,” Padgett said. “But we know there’s still a lot of basketball to be played.”
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