Saturday , Jan , 31 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Pitino’s return spoiled by Marquette

Louisville, KY (Sports Network) – Steve Novak poured in a career-high 30
points, including draining eight three-pointers, as Marquette ruined
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino’s return by stunning the fourth-ranked
Cardinals, 77-70, at Freedom Hall.

Travis Diener contributed 17 points and seven assists for the Golden Eagles
(13-5, 4-3 Conference-USA), who have won two straight games following a three-
game losing streak. Diener also made 7-of-8 from the foul line.

Scott Merritt posted 16 points and eight rebounds for Marquette, which
made 22-of-58 from the field (38 percent) and a blistering 11-of-21 from
three-point range (52 percent).

“As usual when we play Louisville, it’s been a great game,” said Marquette
head coach Tom Crean. “We have tremendous respect for them. Always have and
always will. For us, this is a great win. Our players prepared well and got
better during the week. I’m proud of our players and coaching staff. We didn’t
flinch and we look forward to the rest of our schedule.”

Francisco Garcia battled a sore ankle and scored 20 points for the Cardinals
(16-2, 6-1), who had their 16-game winning streak both overall and in the
conference dating back to last season snapped. Garcia, who leads the team in
scoring, missed Wednesday’s game due to the injury.

Pitino returned to the sidelines after missing Wednesday’s game against
Houston due to a medical leave of absence to have a urological problem in his
left side checked out. The legendary coach would not comment on what exactly
was causing the discomfort, saying just that it was not anything serious.

“Except for Novak’s shooting, I feel fine,” said Pitino. “I don’t feel good
about our basketball team. That would make anybody sick.”

Luke Whitehead added 14 points and 19 boards, while Taquan Dean, the team’s
third-leading scorer, had only four points in 21 minutes in the setback. Dean
also missed Wednesday’s contest with a groin injury and was severely hampered
in the game.

“He (Dean) told me he could go, but to be honest, I didn’t think Francisco
(Garcia) looked that good either,” said Pitino. “We would have lost by 25
without them. We had to try and get the best out of both of them. They haven’t
practiced all week and their sharpness is off.”

Louisville made only 21-of-63 from the field (33 percent) and shot a dismal 15
percent from behind the arc (5-of-33).

Marquette led 30-27 at halftime and Diener’s three-pointer with 17:41 left in
the game gave Marquette a 40-31 cushion. The Cardinals, though, countered with
a 10-0 surge, keyed by consecutive three-pointers by Larry O’Bannon and
Brandon Jenkins, to claim a 41-40 lead with 15:37 remaining in the game.

Novak’s three moments later capped a quick 8-0 surge to put the Golden Eagles
back on top at 48-41. Louisville slowly chipped away and eventually grabbed a
56-55 lead on Garcia’s three-pointer, which capped a 9-0 run, with 6:25 left
in the game.

Marquette then answered with another 8-0 run, keyed by two threes by Novak to
seize a 63-56 edge with just over four minutes left. After one free throw by
Garcia, Novak increased the cushion to nine with a deep three-pointer with
3:41 left, his eighth of the game.

“The great thing about his (Novak’s) performance is how committed he was to
defense and rebounding,” said Crean. “He’s been getting better in all those
other areas. He deserves it and he works very hard. They are all products of
hard work. What you saw today was two teams with great work ethics. We don’t
have a problem with him shooting as long as he’s in rhythm. We didn’t do
anything special for him today.”

The Cardinals would not go away and pulled within four points at 68-64 on
O’Bannon’s three with 1:45 left. However, the deficit would not get any
smaller as four straight Marquette free throws sealed the win.

Merritt’s jumper with 12:33 left in the first half capped a 10-0 Marquette
spurt and gave the Golden Eagles a 14-8 lead. Novak keyed the run by scoring
the team’s other eight points, including hitting two three-pointers.

Louisville came back, courtesy of a 10-0 run of its own, to grab a four-point
edge. Alhaji Mohammed began the surge with four straight points and
Whitehead’s jumper then tied the game. Consecutive layups by Whitehead and
Otis George culminated the burst to make it 18-14 with 8:00 left.

In the see-saw contest, the Golden Eagles responded with a 10-2 run to pull
ahead 24-20 as Diener’s long field goal capped the surge. The remainder of the
half stayed close and Marquette held a 30-27 advantage at halftime.

Novak scored 16 points, while Garcia and Whitehead each chipped in six for the
Cardinals in the opening 24 minutes.