Win at Duke, road sweep has Cards flying high

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- As you would expect, Louisville center Malik Williams has always been bullish on the Cardinals' prospects this season. Now their recent achievements, capped by Saturday's exhilarating upset of No. 3 Duke, has him waxing even more enthusiastically about the future.


After sweeping their three-game road swing by turning in an ultra-impressive performance in the 79-73 win in Cameron Indoor Stadium, UofL's stock is definitely up heading into Wednesday night's homecoming against Georgia Tech (8-10, 3-5) at 7:04 p.m. (RSN) in the KFC Yum! Center.


The victory came on the heels of two close calls against ACC have-nots Notre Dame and Pittsburgh that had skeptics both locally and nationally doubting the Cards' legitimacy as a national championship contender, a fact coach Chris Mack said he mentioned to his team before they took the floor against the Blue Devils.


Their gutsy effort was enough to move them up to No. 6 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the USA Today coaches poll and more than enough to stoke the optimism of Williams and his teammates.


"I'm not really sure what the outside world is thinking, but I think we made believers in ourselves coming off the 3-game road trip," said the 6-foot 11 , who contributed 12 points and seven rebounds to Saturday's win. "I know that I've got a growing belief in what we can do this season. That we can do anything, that anything is possible. We've had a tough road throughout the season, a lot of ups and downs, but coming off this last stretch I believe we can do anything."


With Baylor leapfrogging Gonzaga this week, a record seven teams have now claimed the No. 1 spot in the AP poll, including UofL and Duke, and Williams doesn't need to have seen all of them play to form an opinion about where the Cards stacks up.


"I wouldn't say I've seen enough of them to know," he said. "I've seen enough of us to know, though. We've played some of the best teams in the country. Duke was No. 1 at one point and we just went and beat them. It's about us every night. There won't be another team that just comes out and beats us, it will be us not playing our game, in my eyes."


As for the ACC, Williams admits to being a student of the league standings and upcoming games -- "Just checking up on how things are shaping up around the conference. I like to stay in tune with it," he says.


When he looks at the standings today he'll see Louisville (15-3 overall) tied with Florida State for the league lead at 6-1, with a one-game lead over Duke (5-2), then a bunch of teams behind that trio with three or four losses already.


And when he assesses the Cardinals' user-friendly schedule the rest of the way, he should feel even more giddy about their future.


Not only is UofL the only team to have already won four road games, but its remaining schedule is more accomodating than that of either of its two main rivals for the ACC title -- Duke and Florida State. Of the Cards' 13 regular season games that are left, only one -- the No. 5/6 Seminoles on Feb. 24 in Tallahassee -- is against a ranked team and eight are against teams that are Nos. 9 through 15 in the current league standings.


One note of caution, however. This marks the third time in its six seasons in the ACC that Louisville has started 6-1. None resulted in a championship.


"Right now we're sitting in good shape but we're going to have to keep fighting to the end, game after game," Williams said. "We're gonna have to play the same every single night for us to finish up with one loss in the ACC."


Mack has warned his players about putting too much stock in the victory at Duke, especially when they're still three games away from the halfway point of the conference season.


"I think that gives our guys confidence that we can continue to battle through adversity, but it doesn't give us entitlement," he said. "And if it becomes a badge of honor, like 'hey, we won at Duke,' then we'll get beat next game."


And if the Cards are flying high with extra enthusiasm and optimism, as Williams indicated, Mack isn't paying any attention to that either. Ditto for him, too.


"I don't really look for that, I just worry about getting ready for our next opponent," he said. "You gotta look forward. Certainly, we can gain some confidence from key stretches of the game where we managed to either come back or take other team's best punch down the stretch, return the favor and win the game. But my job is to look forward and keep trying to improve our team and not worry about emotional state and feelings, especially my own personal ones."


NOTE--The successful three-game road stretch marked the first eight-day road swing with a 3-0 record since Jan. 10-17, 1999, when the Cards beat South Florida, Marquette and DePaul, all of whom were unranked.


JOHNSON IS OK, MACK SAYS


Mack said freshman guard David Johnson is "fine" and is expected to play against Georgia Tech. Johnson left Saturday's game with 3 1/2 minutes remaining after falling on his surgically-repaired left shoulder and didn't return.


Johnson's monster game, with 19 points, seven assists, four rebounds, three steals and three dunks, helped him become the first UofL player to earn ACC Freshman of the Week honors since Jordan Nwora on Feb. 12, 2018.


In Louisville's wins over Pittsburgh and Duke, Johnson came off the bench to average 15.0 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and shot 57.9 percent (11-of-19, 2-2 3FG).


GEORGIA TECH A WRECK


Georgia Tech, coming off back-to-back homecourt losses against Notre Dame (78-74) and Virginia (63-58), could be missing its leading scorer Wednesday. Sophomore shooting guard Michael Devoe, who is averaging 15.9 points per game, was seen wearing a boot on his right foot at practice Monday and coach Josh Pastner said that his status is to be determined.


Junior point guard Jose Alvarado (back spasms), the team's assists leader with 5.0 per game, and top reserve Evan Cole, a junior forward, are also ailing, but could possibly play.


The Yellow Jackets lost despite shooting 50 percent from the field in both games and scoring its most points against Virginia in six years. Tech's field goal percentage in ACC games is second at .467, sandwiched between Duke (.502) and UofL (.447).


"You're playing good teams," Pastner said. "We had some chances where we blew opportunities. Part of playing in the ACC, you're going to have guys who can make plays and make shots. Our guys' effort was there -- they guarded -- it's just a couple of times those guys hit some tough shots and that's life in the ACC.


"We've got to be better on defense. Our inexperience shows at times. It takes courage not to get discouraged. You can't be soft. You can self-reflect and be disappointed, but don't you dare get discouraged. You have to be strong and tough mentally."


Louisville owns an eight-game winning streak against Tech, including last year's 79-51 rout in Atlanta in which Nwora scored 25 points. The Jackets also returned their leading scorer from that game in 6-9 senior center James Banks III, who had 24 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Banks is averaging 13.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg and nearly three blocks per game.


FOOTBALL NOTES--UofL football coach Scott Satterfield has added inside linebackers coach Derek Nicholson to his staff. Nicholson comes to Louisville for the second time after spending four seasons at Southern Mississippi – two seasons coaching the defensive line and serving as the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.


He spent the 2014 season with the Cards, coaching outside linebackers/defensive ends on a defense that ranked fifth in the country in total defense, led the nation in interceptions, was ninth in total sacks and fourth in rush defense. Nicholson has also coached at Akron and Alcorn State and at high schools in North Carolina and Florida.


UofL also announced the addition of Bowling Green on Sept. 20, 2025, to complete its nonconference schedule for the 2025 football season. It will be the first meeting between the two schools. The Cards will also host Eastern Kentucky (Aug. 30) that year and face Indiana (Sept. 6) and Kentucky (Nov. 29) on the road.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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