Rick Pitino certainly wasn't pushing the panic button with under eight minutes left when he called time with Siena on a 12-0 run that seized a 63-59 lead.
We Providence fans just knew Rick would find a way to steal that game back for Louisville, for he's been to the Second Round Late Deficit Against A Big Underdog Rodeo before. Today may just have been the near-death experience a Final Four team needs on the way there.
I thank Pitino, and his then-point guard Billy Donovan, for inspiring the near-death theory. In three of its four games in the '87 Southeast Regional, Providence was virtually untouched, including its surprisingly easy Elite Eight romp past top-seeded Georgetown. But the game we'll never forget came in the second round against Austin Peay, which had shocked Illinois in the first round after Dick Vitale had promised to stand on his head if that happened (he tried in the ESPN studio, anyway).
Trailing by 10 with four and a half minutes left, Pitino took a TO and read the Friars a combination of the riot act and the Sermon on the Mount. A bunch of threes later (and a couple of AP missed free throws in the final seconds of regulation), Providence pulled out an overtime win. My voice has not recovered from that day.
Substitute Terrence Williams and Earl Clark for Billy the Kid, and that old Pitino magic worked again against a Siena team that Just. Would. Not. Go. Away. Williams pounded home 24 points and 15 rebounds in a Player of the Day performance - after skipping across the court prior to the game, he convinced his teammates and his coach their season would not end today.
Back in his Providence days, Pitino would run and press for 40 minutes if he could get away with it, with a bunch of bodies not quite as athletic as he has at Louisville. Now, the press is there when he needs it. And it kills.
Count the days in hopes of a North Carolina-Louisville Final Four matchup. If it happens, it'll be one for the ages.
A few other thoughts:
* If only James Harden wasn't so danged unselfish. It wouldn't have killed Arizona State for him to jack up a couple more shots or drive a couple more times. As great a job as Syracuse did collapsing on him in the zone, there were holes he and the Sun Devils didn't take advantage of.
* The triple double with blocks is even more dominating than the one with assists. After Cole Aldrich's two monster games in Dayton, my advice to Michigan State is push the pace and keep driving. Getting the big fella in foul trouble is probably the way to beat an erratic Kansas squad that has decided it's not yet ready to give up the championship belt.
* A tale of two halves: Pitt and Oklahoma State couldn't miss in the first 20 minutes. The second 20 minutes was more like old-school Panther mud wrestling, and Sam Young was the only guy who could keep up that kind of offensive pace. Now if Pitt could ever win a Sweet 16 game...
* ...and I suspect they will, but it'll be fun to see Sean Miller go up against his alma mater. To me, Xavier looked like the inevitable fourth seed entering the tournament on a month-long downswing that made it ripe for an upset, but the Musketeers pulled it together and threw sand into the gears of an already rust-bucket Wisconsin offense.
* Before we start throwing rocks at Missouri coach Mike Anderson and guard J.T. Tiller for their roles in the final moments against Marquette, would you substitute a 76 percent foul shooter for a guy who shot only 68 (Kim English) and had spent most of the second half on the bench?
* Think Lazar Hayward has already received an e-mail from Chris Webber after his inbounds pass catastrophe? If Marquette pulled that game out after rallying from 16 down, I could not not have given Jerel McNeal (30 points) Player of the Day.
* Arizona in the Sweet 16? And Russ Pennell is still "interim" coach? To paraphrase a famous incident from the 1989 tournament, an Arizona man is coaching Arizona on an improbable run here. Smartest thing Pennell can do when this is over is ask the U of A administration whether Dan Rooney gave a damn that Mike Tomlin fit nobody's definition of "big name."
* We have a Stephen Curry Award winner: Western Kentucky's Orlando Mendez-Valdez. I'm not sure I want to rename the award for him next year, though - that's a mouthful.