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After a 12-point loss to Kentucky back in mid-December dropped Louisville to 5-4 on the season, a second straight trip to the NIT seemed likely.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a disappointing year for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals — they started winning.

Since the Kentucky game, Louisville has won 10 of its last 12, including Saturday’s crazy comeback from 14 points down in the second half to beat Syracuse.

Since I was already going to be in Louisville for the Kentucky Press Association convention, and to visit my brother, I figured I’d go check out the Cardinals close-up and see if I could learn anything more about this team apart from what I had seen in a handful of televised games.

One thing that hasn’t changed since the Kentucky game is the Cardinals’ poor shooting. As a team, Louisville is clanging them off the rim at a 42.3 percent pace.

Strangely enough, Louisville shot worse in the second half than the first, but you wouldn’t know it by the way the crowd rallied behind a big 25-6 Cardinal run to close out the game..

Huh? How’d that happen?

The lockdown job Louisville put on Syracuse in the second half is kind of a microcosm for their season.

Some tinkering on defense — including moving 6-6 Terrence Williams out to guard the point, and shoring up soft spots on the inside — led to the Orangemen missing seven consecutive shots over a 9:39 stretch. They finally broke the drought with six seconds left, but it was far too late.

If you’re going to be a poor-shooting team, you’d better play good defense. Opponents hit 40.2 percent against the Cards.

A closer look reveals that Louisville has both shot (1,212-1,110) and made (513-447) more field goals, and attempted (474-356) and hit (156-115) a great deal more threes than their opponents.

They’re getting those extra possessions somewhere, and it’s not on the rebounding glass.

Williams also switched to the point on offense in the second half against Syracuse — a half that saw Louisville commit only one turnover. Syracuse gave it up six times during the big rally. With Andre McGee still a step or two slow after recent injuries, Williams was able to give key ballhandling minutes and take pressure off freshman PG Edgar Sosa.

Over the last 12 games, Louisville is forcing 17.7 turnovers a game, while coughing it up only 13 times per contest.

All this means is that it may not be pretty the way Louisville is doing it, but the wins are stacking up.

The next four games are very winnable. Louisville could go into the Feb. 12 visit to first-place Pitt riding high on a seven-game win streak and just one away from 20 wins. If the Cardinals continue to play with confidence and continue to get healthy — and continue to create offense from defense — that game at Pitt could be for first place in the Big East.

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