“Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus. Before they took off, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun.
But ecstatic with the ability to fly like the gods, Icarus disregarded his father’s warnings,
and flew higher and higher,
until the heat of the sun began to melt the wax in his wings, and he fell into the sea.”
From the Greek Myth
There are many lessons to be learned from the myth of Icarus.
About listening to wise advice,
and not losing one’s wits in the thrill of the moment,
and that with the greatest heights, can come the greatest falls.
Some have also said that the tale of Icarus represents a warning about unrestrained ego, ambition, and vanity and its consequences.
This loss by the Cards to MSU was perhaps the most disappointing and puzzling of all the epic losses in U of L’ s long history of tournament games.
It didn’t have the lightning bolt shock of Terry Howard’s missed free throw in the 1975 overtime loss to UCLA in the Final Four, or that of U S Reed’s half court bomb in 1981, or even the slam-dunking barrage by Houston’s Phi Slamma’s in 1983 that finally put that game away late in the second half.
No, this was just a game-long, numbing, disheartening disappointment.
Favored by 7, in the most important game of their lives –and right after a record-setting performance in the game before–
this Cardinal team and its leading player, in front of a huge virtual home crowd of over 25,000 Card fans in Indy,
both came out flat
and then, to the eternal tarnishment of this team’s legacy,
flat gave up.
It was embarrassing and disheartening to this Card fan of over 40 years to see a U of L team hang its head and give up, with over 10 minutes left in the game and down by only 10 pts.
But it might as well have been 100…
T Will and the Cards had let themselves get out-toughed by a physical man-to-man D that cut off easy passing and cutting lanes, and they passively reverted to the one-on-one, sub-60 pt offense the Cards had exhibited in all of their losses this season.
Even so , the Cards had hung close all through the low scoring first half and made a charge at the start of the second half, taking the lead.
But the Spartans immediately responded with their strongest surge of the game, taking a 5 point lead, causing Pitino to use a timeout, and inspiring Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to leap out of his seat, shaking his fists and screaming at his team in a way I have seldom seen. You could feel the man’s energy 100 yds across the court where I glumly sat, well-perched for this disaster.
As they approached Pitino, the heads of the Cards were all down, tired frustration frowning their faces and draped on their stooped shoulders.
After that time out, MSU surging immediately to a double digit lead, which prompted another Pitino timeout. This time the team looked even more downtrodden and beaten.
In shock I realized it then: Even with only a 10 pt MSU lead and still 10 minutes to play, the game was in effect over.
T Will and the Cards had been frustrated into total submission by the MSU defense. And over the next several excruciatingly uninspired, meek minutes of play by the Cards, they displayed their resignation.
I’ve never seen such quit in a Card team in such an important game.
Was Pitino out-coached? Well, I’ll simply say Tom Izzo constructed a perfect game plan (perhaps with a bit of late-night help from IU coach Tom Crean!) , and the MSU players executed it to perfection — both on defense, and importantly on offense, patiently working for the best shot and then hitting it.
However, I’ll also quickly state that I firmly believe U of L had the better athletes on the floor– they simply didn’t have the patience and heart to execute their game plan like MSU did. MSU obviously wanted it more from the opening bell, and it showed.
MSU’s talent was not 22 points better than the spread against U of L. But its heart was.
This poor showing by the Card team was a terrible shame, because this was certainly one of the most talented and entertaining teams in our history.
This Card team was just the fourth at U of L to win at least 30 games, finishing 31-6. It won the school’s first Big East regular-season and conference tournament championships. It was the first in U of L’s proud history to be ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll, and the first to receive the #1 seed overall.
It became the national media darling, with three straight Sports Illustrated covers of T Will and even recognition by President Obama as a finalist in his national championship game (although his crossing out of his pick of Louisville as the winner, may go down in U of L annals as the “Curse of Obama”…)
This Card team will be remembered for its Golden January of nine straight wins, capped with a take down of #1 Pitt in the Hall. It will be remembered for its Micowave Defense of Pit Bull #1 (Andre) and #2 (Preston.)
It will be remembered for Earl Clark, a raw, extremely talented athlete, who like T Will came back for another year to make a run at the title, and who was the only Card that excelled in the final game.
But it will most be remembered for T Will, the “freak athlete” who transformed himself, Griff-like, from his junior to senior years into perhaps the most complete player in the land, and who led his Card team to unprecedented new heights
and perhaps to its hardest fall.