Center David Padgett’s quick return from a knee injury has been a dream for the Louisville Cardinals.
It might prove to be a nightmare for the Tennessee Volunteers.
The No. 2 seed Vols take on No. 3 seeded Cardinals tonight in Charlotte, N.C. in the NCAA Tournament East Regional. The 6-foot-11 Padgett was thought to be lost for the season after breaking a kneecap in November.
“I just walked out of his room and cried in the hallway because I new without him … there’s new technology where you can drive some cars without a key, but that’s the key to everything on our team,” said forward Terrence Williams when he found out about Padgett’s injury.
As it turned out, Padgett was able to return in January and the senior center has helped the Cards win 11 out of their last 13 games.
Padgett leads a starting frontcourt that could spell big trouble for a Tennessee team that doesn't have much size in the frontcourt.
Padgett, 6-9 Earl Clark and the 6-6 Williams would seem to have an edge over the Vols’ 6-7 Tyler Smith and 6-9 Wayne Chism, as UT often goes with a three-guard lineup.
Clark leads Louisville with eight rebounds per game and Williams pulls down 7.3 per game. In addition, Williams leads the Cardinals in assists with 4.6.
T. SMITH, LOFTON BIG KEYS:Tyler Smith has been a key player at both ends of the floor for the Volunteers all season. Often, when he’s playing his best, the Vols are at their best. He is able to create offense in the post by either attacking the rim or finding an open shooter.
Many times, that shooter is UT senior star Chris Lofton. The native of Maysville, Ky., has been the Volunteers’ signature star in their resurgence the last three seasons. That has left University of Kentucky fans and University of Louisville fans wondering how Lofton got out of the Bluegrass state.
“I think he chose the right school,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “He got the ability to play right away. I don’t think anybody missed on him. It was a great fit for Tennessee and a great fit for Chris.”
Lofton remembers it differently.
“When we played them my freshman year, it mean a lot for trying to get back at them for not recruiting me so hard,” Lofton said. “It’s four years later and we're trying to go to the Elite Eight.”
Williams said Lofton's incredible range is what makes him difficult to defend.
“We try to not give a lot of people open looks,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a little tough defending him, he types of shots he shoots.”