LOUISVILLE—There was no question that Louisville looked snazzy on the sidelines for Sunday's game against Marquette. The Cardinals wore retro uniforms from the Wes Unseld era of the late 1960s, and Rick Pitino once again broke out the white suit for "White Out" day at Freedom Hall.
Once the game started, however, the 'Ville showed it was far from just pretty boys. The Cards rolled up their sleeves and outlasted No. 8 Marquette 62-58 at Freedom Hall.
No. 6 Louisville (23-5, 14-2) is now a half-game behind UConn (27-2, 15-2) and in prime position to claim its first-ever Big East championship as the regular season enters its final week.
UConn owns the tiebreaker over the Cards but must travel to top-ranked Pittsburgh (26-3, 13-3) on Saturday. U of L owns the tiebreaker over Pitt.
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"We're just excited to be having this type of season and be in the running for (the Big East title)," Pitino said. "We've had to fight a lot, every team in this league does, and the guys are doing a great job at it."
Marquette was playing its first full game without senior point guard Dominic James, who suffered a season-ending broken foot in a loss to UConn on Wednesday. The Golden Eagles also didn't get much from leading scorer Jerel McNeal, who finished with 10 points on 3-for-19 shooting.
Still, the gritty Golden Eagles managed to give the Cards all they wanted, several times erasing deficits of nine or more points to get to within striking range.
U of L senior guard Andre McGee put the fire out on a couple of occasions with big three-pointers. McGee, normally known for his tough defense, scored a team-high 16 points on 4-for-7 shooting from behind the arc.
"People look at Andre as a defensive player, but people forget that he averaged 40 points in high school," U of L senior Terrence Williams said. "He can score the ball, and he showed up big today."
With McNeal and teammate Wesley Matthews both known for their one-on-one ability, McGee tied his season-high for minutes with 28.
"(McGee) had a great game tonight," Pitino said. "We couldn't get beat off the dribble because it gets our big guys in foul trouble, so we had to have him out there. He's having a great senior year. He's the unsung hero of our basketball team."
Marquette Coach Buzz Williams gave the Cards a lot of the credit for McNeal's struggles.
"He didn't make many shots, but we'll still let him shoot 'em," Williams said of McNeal. "He's the guy we want shooting the ball. And a lot of it was Louisville and their length and athleticism."
Each member of Louisville's front line contributed: Williams played his usual all-around floor game with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Earl Clark threw in a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Samardo Samuels added 12 points and seven boards.
Louisville, up three (28-25) at halftime, looked on the verge of running Marquette out of the gym after Clark's dunk pushed the lead to 12 (38-26) less than four minutes into the second half.
But Louisville couldn't get the knockout, and Marquette had it down to a one-possession game with 22.5.
Williams hit one of two free throws, and Matthews misfired on a three, allowing U of L to dribble out the clock.
The Cards will host Seton Hall on Wednesday, Senior Night for Williams, McGee and Will Scott, and close out the season Saturday night at West Virginia.
Pitino, who first wore the white suit for 'White-Out' night against Georgetown last year, said he brought it back out in memory of his mother-in-law, who recently passed away.
"There is an element of fun in this game, and even though this is the Big East and it was a fight, we wanted to have a little fun with this."
It's hard not to have fun when you're playing good basketball and sporting white suits and retro unis.