The Bulls host a team that knocked off favored Cincinnati and DePaul.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001
TAMPA -- They opened the season with their worst start since 1990-91, losing six of their first eight games.
Rumors swirled that their legendary coach is in trouble after he met with the athletic director last week and didn't get a resounding endorsement.
They are 8-12, in part because they have won three of their past four games. And yet, the Louisville Cardinals are second in the Conference USA American Division standings.
The Cardinals, who play South Florida tonight, are coming off one of their best weeks of the season and playing with renewed confidence.
Louisville knocked off conference power Cincinnati and DePaul in consecutive games last week. And the wins couldn't have come at a better time, coach Denny Crum said.
"They beat two good teams on the road, and I think that's really big for us now ... because I really think their confidence level was not very high," Crum said. "We've just got to maintain that. You can play well and lose to South Florida, and St. Louis has already beaten us, so we know we've got two tough games this week. But it's that kind of a challenge that if you can step up and handle it, it shows a lot of progress."
The Cardinals are led by one of two seniors, guard Marques Maybin, who is averaging 18.7 points per game and was selected C-USA Player of the Week on Monday. Maybin has scored 20 or more points in 10 games this season, but Crum likes something else he has seen lately.
"Where I've been pleased with him more is his defensive effort," Crum said. "His attitude and effort on the defensive end has really come a long way. We need him. He's our only real experienced player."
Crum said he was impressed in recent wins by other players stepping up when guard Reece Gaines was stricken with back spasms that limited him to 19 minutes (three against Cincinnati). He mentioned forward Joseph N'Sima and Erik Brown, who scored 16 points against the Bearcats and a career-best 20 against DePaul.
South Florida has its best conference start in school history and is coming off two wins last week. Coach Seth Greenberg said the Bulls can't underestimate the Cardinals.
"Louisville is a team that's on a high," Greenberg said. "They are getting contributions from a lot of different guys. Maybin, when he scores they are a really good basketball team. They are being more disciplined on the defensive end, and they are more consistent."
Crum said a big part of the Cardinals' problems has been the young team not staying intense throughout a game. He hopes last week indicates they have made a breakthrough.
"You can't force maturity. It just comes," Crum said. "Earlier in the year, I told the guys I loved them but I didn't respect them a whole lot because I didn't feel like they were playing as hard as they could in the games. I thought they practiced harder than they played.
"I think a lot of that was just pressure, but once they got to the point where they could give the same kind of effort in the games that they gave in practice with each other, our team has steadily gotten better."