LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - David Padgett's teammates named the senior center co-captain this season. There's another word Louisville coach Rick Pitino uses to describe the player that holds the Cardinals together.
"David's our sheriff,'' Pitino said.
It's a moniker Pitino said Padgett has earned for the way he patrols the floor.
Defensively, Padgett shores up the middle of Louisville's suffocating zone, never hesitating to grab a teammate and put them in the proper position.
Offensively Padgett may be one of the best passing big men in the country. His ability to set screens at the top of the key then dart to the basket make him a dangerous weapon said Marquette coach Tom Crean, who got an up close view of how effective Padgett can be after watching him post 17 points and 10 rebounds in Louisville's 71-51 win over the Golden Eagles on Thursday.
"He facilitates their offense better than any playmaker in the country,'' Crean said. "I think he's got a lot of value. That's what they want him to do and he does a great job at it.''
Two months ago, it appeared Padgett's career was over after he fractured his right kneecap. Yet he needed just six weeks to recover, and his presence has keyed Louisville's surge. The Cardinals (13-4, 3-1 Big East) will go for their ninth win in 10 games when they play at Seton Hall (11-6, 1-3) on Saturday.
The quick turnaround won't be easy for Padgett, who sat at his locker with both knees wrapped in ice after the Marquette win. There is pain, he says, but it's bearable.
"I just want to be out here, helping us,'' Padgett said. "It's all about this year for us.''
It's a year that is suddenly looking as bright as it seemed in October, before Padgett and forward Juan Palacios went down with injuries.
They're back now, and their return combined with the improved play of sophomores Earl Clark, Derrick Caracter, Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa have the Cardinals looking like the team that began the season ranked in the top 10.
"We just knew that with David back and (Palacios) back it helps us out a lot,'' said forward Terrence Williams. "Everybody is absorbing the scouting report and paying attention in practice and practice is becoming better. Everybody is prepared to play for this team.''
It's a team that has gained its identity by grinding it out offensively and shutting opponents down at the other end of the floor. The Cardinals held Marquette to 30 percent shooting, the ninth time this year Louisville has held an opponent under 40 percent shooting from the floor. The Golden Eagles also missed all 12 of their 3-point attempts, the first time they've been shut out from 3-point range in more than seven years.
"Well, defense is what wins,'' Pitino said.
Yet the memories of the team's early season struggles are still fresh. The Cardinals know a slip-up against the Pirates would take some of the shine off their recent play.
"We can't get too full of ourselves,'' Caracter said. "We've just got to keep working hard.''