Louisville rallies to defeat Tar Heels in overtime

College Contributor Network

In front of over 22,000 fans at the KFC Yum! Center, Rick Pitino got his first win over North Carolina, and the Cardinals got their first win over the Tar Heels in dramatic fashion. Louisville rallied from an 18-point deficit to force overtime and eventually pulled ahead to avenge its loss in Chapel Hill just three weeks prior.

Down 18 points with 17:51 left in the game, the crowd was deflated and the game seemed all but over. But no one told that to Montrezl Harrell. Harrell finished the game with 22 points and 15 rebounds. UNC head coach Roy Williams said Harrell played like he was "possessed." Perhaps he was, possessed by the haunting memory of Marcus Paige stealing the game in Chapel Hill on Jan. 10.

Not to be outdone, Terry Rozier also had 22 points on the night and added 10 rebounds to get a double-double of his own. Rozier scored Louisville's first six points in overtime. Chris Jones added 17 points and five rebounds.

The Cardinals struggled on offense throughout the game, but its defense stepped up to ensure the win. The Tar Heels were outrebounding Louisville 27-16 at the half, and then were outrebounded 30-17 in the second half and overtime. Louisville also allowed zero second chance points in the second half or overtime.

Aside from a satisfying, entertaining comeback win, this was a win this Louisville team needed. With ten games left before the conference championship, Louisville's first season in the ACC is in full swing. And statement wins like Saturday's build confidence in this young team. Three freshmen (Chinanu Onuako, Quentin Snider and Shaq Aaron) all saw double-digit minutes in the win over North Carolina.

Rick Pitino's team is young and smaller than in previous seasons. Building confidence in his young guys will be key, as games such as North Carolina require big minutes from a few leaders. Harrell and Rozier played 44 and 43 minutes respectively, and Chris Jones played 35 minutes. While the three team leaders showcased their stamina and conditioning into overtime, this will not be possible during conference championships and certainly not during the NCAA Tournament.

One point of interest on Saturday was Wayne Blackshear's abysmal performance. Blackshear played 28 minutes with three points and four rebounds. Blackshear's only points of the night came on a three pointer with 2:15 left in overtime. Louisville will need a bigger offensive presence from Blackshear moving forward, though all four of his rebounds came on the defensive glass, which was key to shutting the Tar Heels down in the second half.

As Roy Williams stood at a podium in Louisville and said "There's not a lot to say, they kicked our rear ends and we're getting the crap out of town," it was clear that Louisville basketball program has stepped up to the next level.

Still left on the Cardinals' schedule before conference tournaments, two games against No. 2 Virginia, two games against No. 23 Miami, and a game at home against the No. 8 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. There are many lessons yet to be learned and their postseason fate is far from determined. But Saturday's win went a long way towards building confidence for the games to come, and building a case for the Cardinals to take a three or four seed when March Madness rolls around.

Next up for Louisville, a trip down to Miami. Pitino will most likely continue to give his young guys extended minutes, including players that didn't see much time on Saturday, including seven-foot freshman Anas Mahmoud.

While Pitino extends playing time to the younger guys, and Rozier, Jones and Blackshear look to lead, Montrezl Harrell remains the key to this teams success. It is difficult to summarize how much he means to this team, the energy he brings to every single play, and every game. The junior from Tarboro, North Carolina is having a lights-out first season in the ACC, averaging almost a double-double, with 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds. Redshirt sophomore Mangok Mathiang summed up "Trez's" impact after the game on Saturday night.

"People always ask if we could beat this team or that team, and the answer is always, 'Yeah, we've got Montrezl Harrell."

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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