It's just not something you normally associate with winning a basketball game, but then it wasn't just a basketball game. It was Louisville, as in rival, as in defending national champions, as in national television, as in the team the University of Memphis needed to beat after laying an egg against Houston in the previous game on the road.
"Completing the regular season sweep over Louisville is huge for this team and the city," said head coach Josh Pastner after the Tigers (22-7, 11-5) upset the No. 7 Cardinals 72-66 at the FedExForum on Saturday (March 1).
"Sweeping Louisville is huge for us, and means a lot for the city," said guard Chris Crawford, whose sharp shooting included a dagger-like three-pointer with the game in the balance in the waning moments.
"This win was for the fans, and they are the reason why we won this game," said Michael Dixon Jr., who came off the bench with an attitude that yielded a team-high 18 points and signaled to his teammates, Louisville and Memphis fans that when things get tough, the tough get, well, you know the rest.
Pastner, who tends to live in a positive bubble, had a lot to draw upon after the game played out in an NCAA Tournament-like atmosphere.
"I am so proud of our young men, what a great job they did today. Everyone contributed, including all the guys on the bench. This win was spectacular for our team and this city," he said, throwing out plusses to his staff and the fans, who he credited for a big-time contribution down the stretch.
"We were down eight points with a little more than four minutes to go and I told my team, we are going to win," said Pastner. "We have been down with less than four minutes to play multiple times this season, and found a way to win. It was six on five because the crowd will help us win this game."
With a nod to Louisville (24-5, 13-3) and head coach Rick Pitino, Pastner said, "We made plays down the stretch and won the game. I am so proud of our guys and their resilience to win. ... This is a great day for Memphis Tiger basketball."
The crowd – 18,375 – was the largest home crowd of the season. The game was the 14th time Memphis (No. 21) and Louisville had met when both were ranked. The Cardinals hold a 9-5 lead in those match-ups. Eleven of the 14 ranked encounters – including Saturday's game – were decided by single digits.
Pitino, whose Cardinals rode the backs of forward Montezl Harrek (25 points, 12 rebounds) and guard Russ Smith (19 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) was direct with his feelings.
"It was an extremely disappointing loss," said Pitino. "Overall though you have to give Memphis a lot of credit for the comeback, they made free throws we missed free throws. Giving up a crucial three in a tie game was a bad thing for us."
Acknowledging the hostile environment, Pitino looked it upon as preparation for the tournament games ahead, adding that the Cardinals would be OK. "We just have to give Memphis credit and move on and hopefully we can get them back in the conference tournament."
While the Cardinals were able to cope with Memphis big man Shaq Godwin (5 points, 10 rebounds), he said Geron Johnson (15 points) and Dixon were much more difficult. Dixon said he wanted to have the ball in his hands during the final couple of minutes of the game because, feeling he could get into the paint and either score or draw a foul.
"I could not be as aggressive as I would have liked with the four fouls but we did the best job we could as a team," said Dixon. "Geron Johnson played awesome defense today against (Louisville guard Russ Smith) down the stretch. He is one of the best defenders in the country and our whole team trusts him to make a play."
Johnson said the Tigers are trying to learn from both wins and losses.
"We stayed poised and made some key shots down the stretch. The energy of our team played a big impact in the way we played. We were in desperation mode after losing to Houston. I am excited to get back to practicing and taking this energy into the final two games of the season," said the senior guard.
Crawford said Louisville brought great energy, causing the Tigers to get into foul trouble early on in the game. He talked of being satisfied with coming through for the team.
"I had not been shooting the ball well but today was different for me," said Crawford, who scored 12 points on 4 of 5 shooting from 3-point land. "This rivalry is a big one, and beating Louisville twice boosts our confidence heading into the final two games of the regular season."
NOTE: Memphis returns to action Thursday, Mar. 6 against Cincinnati on the road. TV: ESPN, 6 p.m.