Louisville's Earl Clark, left, goes up for a dunk past the defense of Seton Hall's Robert Mitchell during the first half. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
March 4, 2009
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Andre McGee gathered his Louisville teammates in a pregame huddle moments before taking the court for his final home game at Freedom Hall on Wednesday night and made a simple request.
"I want to go to Detroit baby!" McGee yelled, a reference to the site of next month's Final Four.
The sixth-ranked Cardinals responded with a whoop, then went out and showed why they are among the favorites to make it to the Motor City with a 95-78 victory over Seton Hall on Senior Night.
Earl Clark scored a career-high 27 points, senior Terrence Williams added 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists and the Cardinals (24-5, 15-2 Big East) kept alive their hopes for at least a share of the conference title by shooting 54 percent from the field against the reeling Pirates (15-14, 6-11).
"Coach (Rick Pitino) said the way you honor your seniors is how hard you play," Williams said. "We made 3s. We got out on the break. We offensive rebounded. It was a fun night. That's the way we have to play the rest of the year and in the (NCAA) tournament."
Louisville travels to West Virginia in the regular season finale on Saturday and can win the Big East title outright with a victory coupled with a loss by No. 1 Connecticut to No. 3 Pittsburgh.
"We've been the best road team the last two or three years, which speaks a lot for our seniors," Pitino said.
The Cardinals can be pretty good at home too. Terrence Jennings added 14 points and six rebounds for Louisville, but the night belonged to Clark, Williams and fellow senior co-captain McGee.
Seton Hall tried its best to play spoiler. Robert Mitchell led the Pirates with 24 points and Jeremy Hazell added 18, but Seton Hall turned it over 18 times and simply couldn't keep up with the deeper, more talented Cardinals.
Louisville started the second half on a 15-3 run to take a 66-43 lead. The Pirates got within 69-58 a few moments later before the Cardinals used a 13-2 burst to put it out of reach.
"We just came in here and tried to make a game of it," Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "We were up against a lot, Senior Night and they're trying to win the league outright. We knew we weren't going to catch them sleeping. We got it to 11 and kept scratching and clawing."
Meanwhile, Clark used his 6-foot-9 length to get wherever he wanted on the court, shooting 11-of-16 and adding two steals and an assist.
"I just wanted to play hard for the seniors," Clark said. "We like to get up and down, and that's what we did a lot of. I got a lot of easy baskets."
Most of them courtesy of Williams, who came to Louisville four years ago as a physically gifted but unrefined talent. He's evolved into of the best all-around players in the country. He put his versatility on display during one brilliant 10-second stretch in the first half, blocking Seton Hall center John Garcia at one end then grabbing an offensive rebound off a miss by Jerry Smith and laying it in at the other.
Williams nearly collected his first triple-double of the season, then couldn't help but chide his fellow seniors for clanking possible assists in the waning moments.
"Someone said I needed two assists," Williams said. "I threw the ball to Andre and he missed and I threw the ball to Will (Scott) and he missed. A triple-double on Senior Night would have meant a lot."
Not that it mattered to the sellout crowed, who gave Williams a standing ovation when he walked off the court with a few seconds remaining, then kept his promise and didn't cry during a touching postgame speech.
"I'm not done yet," Williams said. "There's still a couple of championships I want to win."
It won't be easy. Yet the Cardinals have shown they're pretty resilient over the last two months, shaking off a disappointing nonconference schedule that included losses to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV. Williams led the way, becoming the steadying influence that gives the Cardinals whatever they need on a given night.
"The first time I saw him was in Madison Square Garden when he was a freshman," Gonzalez said. "I remember him being just a raw athlete. He was a jump, run and press player. Now he is so much more skilled ... and can hurt you in so many ways. He is their emotional leader out on the court."