Capitals

Sugar Bowl victory vindicates Cardinals' season

201301022351859013139-p2.jpeg

Sugar Bowl victory vindicates Cardinals' season

Louisville's success this season shocked everybody except the No. 22 Cardinals.

That won't be the case next year, not after Louisville upset No. 4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl Wednesday night. Expectations will be high heading into next season.

That's fine with the Cardinals, whose 33-23 victory over the heavily favored Gators brought a huge measure of vindication in a season in which they struggled for respect. After starting 9-0 but remaining outside the Bowl Championship Series title discussion, Louisville earned its second BCS bowl berth.

The landmark win against the Gators raises the bar higher for the Cardinals (11-2). Louisville returns 10 starters on offense and defense. The Cardinals could begin next fall as a top-10 team with coach Charlie Strong returning along with star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who figures to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Strong and the Cardinals are savoring the moment but they're also thinking about how to build on it.

``We know we still have a long ways to go,'' said Strong, who last month spurned an offer to be Tennessee's head coach to remain at Louisville. ``You look at the teams that we beat this season. We played well, but we had to play well like that all season.

``We were not a consistent team this season. We struggled, had to come from behind seven games. ... I don't want to say where we would be, but we could continue to get better.''

Fans greeted the Cardinals at their team complex on their return home Thursday from New Orleans. Athletic department spokesman Kenny Klein said no formal celebration was planned for the team.

Still, the outlook is good reason Louisville to party.

The Cardinals improved to 2-0 in BCS games with the Sugar Bowl win. They led Florida from start to finish, something Louisville hadn't done since Sept. 15 when they beat North Carolina 39-34 in the Cardinals' third game of the season. Louisville's strength of schedule was a constant issue for the Cardinals, who managed to put answer the questions about whether they were legitimate or not with their bowl performance.

The next step is seeing how their 41 freshmen, 31 sophomores and 28 juniors mature next season.

``This is a team that can handle adversity,'' Strong said. ``We've been through a lot. We've been able to grow, and once you grow from adversity, it just makes you stronger. That's what this football team has done. It's grown so much.''

Defensively, Louisville must replace cornerback Adrian Bushell and linebacker Daniel Brown. The offense loses left tackle Alex Kupper, center Mario Benavides and wide receiver Andrell Smith.

Louisville's ground game could be deep again with second-leading rusher Senorise Perry (705 yards, 11 touchdowns) expected back after tearing his right ACL on Nov. 10. The junior will rejoin a backfield including redshirt freshman Corvin Lamb and juniors Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright, who rushed for 84 yards and a TD in the bowl win.

However, Sugar Bowl MVP Bridgewater will command most of the attention, especially after his performance on center stage in the nationally televised game against a Southeastern Conference opponent. Bridgewater is the main reason the Cardinals will likely enter next season with the respect they craved this year.

``I've been saying it all year: He's one of the best quarterbacks and best player in the nation,'' Cardinals safety Calvin Pryor said of Bridgewater. ``They look at Louisville, don't give us any credit, but he's one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.''

Quick Links

Panthers honor Florida shooting victims before game against Capitals

Panthers honor Florida shooting victims before game against Capitals

Prior to their matchup against the Capitals, the Panthers honored the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Thursday night's game was the Panthers' first game on home ice since the shooting last week. BB&T Center, the home of the Panthers, is located about 20 minutes south of Parkland.

Both teams wore the school’s hat during warmups, and the Panthers will wear the school’s logo on their helmets and “MSD” patches on their jerseys for the rest of the season.

There was a was a moment of silence and ceremony prior to the game, during which the video board showed the pictures and names of all 17 victims.

Following the video Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who lives in Parkland, took the ice to give his own moving tribute. 

"It's time for us, as a community, to take action. Enough is enough." Luongo commended the school's teachers and said of the students, "You guys are an inspiration for all of us. You guys are giving us hope for the future." 

"When I'm done playing hockey, I want to spend the rest of my life in Parkland," Luongo said. "I love that city."

In addition to the ceremony and uniform tributes, the Panthers hosted a blood drive beginning at today noon and lasting through the second intermission of the game in an effort to replenish local blood banks.

Quick Links

5 things to know about new Wizards player Ramon Sessions

ap_977435999414.jpg
Associated Press

5 things to know about new Wizards player Ramon Sessions

The Washington Wizards signed point guard Ramon Sessions to a 10-day free agent contract on Thursday. Here are five things to know about the newest Wizards player...

**Sessions has played for Washington before. He was acquired by the Wizards at the trade deadline in 2015 and played out the 2014-15 season, appearing in 28 regular season games and 10 more in the playoffs. Sessions then spent the whole 2015-16 season with the team before leaving the following summer to sign a free agent deal with the Charlotte Hornets. In 1 1/2 seasons with the Wizards, Sessions averaged 9.2 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds. He shot 46 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

**Sessions played one season for the Hornets and spent part of this year with the New York Knicks. The Knicks waived Sessions on Jan. 13. Over the past two seasons in Charlotte and New York, Sessions has averaged 5.7 points, 2.5 assists and 1.4 rebounds while shooting 37 percent.

**This is Sessions' 11th NBA season. In addition to the Wizards, Hornets and Knicks, he has spent time with the Bucks, Cavs, Lakers and Kings. He began his career in Milwaukee after getting selected in the second round of the 2007 draft.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

**Sessions went to the University of Nevada from 2004 through 2007 and left an impressive legacy as one of the best players in the program's history. The school's practice facility is, in fact, named after Sessions. It is called the 'Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center' and Sessions donated $1 million towards construction costs.

**Sessions overlapped with former Wizards player JaVale McGee at Nevada. Sessions was in his final season as a junior when McGee was a freshman. The Wolfpack were quite good that year. They peaked at No. 10 in the nation, the highest ranking in school history, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS LOADED CLASS