Madam Speaker, I rise to honor the University of Louisville Cardinals, who went to a second straight Final Four this season and returned home National Champions!
Going into the NCAA tournament, the question was whether the Cards’ stifling defense would be enough to win it all. Well, we’ll never know — because the country’s best defense became the best offense, too, shooting 52 percent to a tournament-best 79.5 points per game.
That’s more than crazy. It’s Russdiculous!
They said he never met a shot he didn’t like. But during the past month, Russ Smith hardly took a shot he couldn’t make, setting Louisville’s new tournament scoring record and earning the respect and affection of a city. The all-American, Regional MVP, and defensive phenom no longer cares who’s scoring — as long as the jersey reads Louisville.
When these guys say the team motto Louisville First Cards Forever, they mean it.
We saw it when the team rallied around their injured teammate, Kevin Ware, as he courageously repeated: “I’m fine, just win the game” before being carted off the court during the Elite Eight. We saw it when they came together to Win for Ware.
But before that, the Cards won with Ware. On this team, Kevin was one of eight Cardinals to score double figures in a tournament game.
That doesn’t even include the players who set this team off on some of the year’s most unlikely — and electrifying — rallies.
Walk-on Tim Henderson scored six of his season’s 22 points in 45 seconds to cut a late 12-point Final Four deficit in half. All year, Stephen Van Treese snatched rebounds from future NBA big men, denied them in the paint, and set precision picks strong enough to stop a truck. And freshman Montrezl Harrell provided a constant spark off the bench, his unrelenting effort the only thing close to matching his natural ability.
Peyton Siva embodies the Louisville-First spirit. Happier setting up his teammates than knocking it down himself, Peyton reminded the nation he can also drop 18 on the player of the year in the championship game. Unselfish but a thief, he’ll graduate with the school record for steals in a season and career.
Big man Gorgui Deing is unselfish, too. UofL’s record-setting shot-blocker and monster rebounder used his jumpshot to pull defenders and find teammates for six assists in the championship game — three to Chane Behanan, who tied Louisville’s single-season dunk record, officially making him the latest doctor of dunk. Cutting down the nets in Atlanta was great, but they should give Chane the backboards because he owned them all night.
This team also showed tremendous perseverance. Wayne Blackshear overcame two shoulder surgeries to reach the starting lineup, and it’s a good thing: He hit threes to start the Cards’ scoring in both championship halves.
But the Final Four’s breakout star was its Most Outstanding Player, Luke Hancock, who scored his career-high in the semifinal — then broke it two days later. Luke didn’t use the force; he was a force. And nothing would stop him from winning for his ailing father, for Kevin Ware, and — as always — for Louisville.
That’s what Coach Rick Pitino taught this team. The master motivator, who’s done everything this week but cartwheels on the moon, built a team and mentored men we should all be proud of.
And like Pitino, Jeff Walz will tell you this isn’t about one person or even one team. It’s about a program and a community. Trust him. That mad scientist led UofL’s women to four straight NCAA tournament upsets, including what is considered to be the biggest upset in college basketball history.
Behind the jaw-dropping plays of Shoni and Jude Shimmel, sharpshooting of Antonita Slaughter, tenacity and skill of Sara Hammond, Sherron Vails, Bria Smith, and Megan Deines, and the unbelievable toughness of seniors Monique Reid and Shelby Harper, the national runners-up crashed nearly every party around.
These players and coaches define an extraordinary program. Only three schools in NCAA history have gone to a men’s and women’s basketball final in the same season; Louisville is the first to add a BCS Bowl victory to the mix.
But if you think it’s the last, you don’t know Athletics Director Tom Jurich. With sparkling new facilities, outstanding coaches, and stellar student-athletes in competition and class, Tom has every UofL sport at the top of their game and climbing.
The university and the community have thrived along with them, continuing a proud tradition that began with Peck Hickman and rocketed to the top under the great Denny Crum.
I’m honored to congratulate the University of Louisville for its unparalleled winning streak, capped off by the Cards’ third men’s basketball National Championship. GO CARDS!