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Saturday, March 6, 2010
Fanfare for the goodbye to Freedom Hall

By Pat Forde

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The traffic jam was forming outside Freedom Hall three hours prior to tipoff. Tailgaters were out in the parking lot.

Football atmosphere? Yes. But this is basketball. The last basketball game in historic Freedom Hall for the Louisville Cardinals.

The home team pulled out all the stops: dozens of great players from the school's gilded past were here, including 1980 and '86 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players Darrell Griffith and Pervis Ellison. Program patriarch Denny Crum was of course in the house, along with many of his assistant coaches. Rick Pitino entered the arena wearing a bright red blazer and black slacks. And the video tributes rolled to Louisville's four-man senior class.

The goodbye to a 54-year-old arena will be a raucous one. But will it be a successful one?

The opponent is No. 1 Syracuse, playing some of its best ball of the season. The Cardinals shocked the Orange in the Carrier Dome last month and now find themselves needing to do it again to remove all doubt about an NCAA tournament berth.

Keep this in mind regarding the atmosphere: this is as prized a ticket as there has been in Freedom Hall, and many of the old-time (and, frankly, old) fans have placed dibs on ducats that have been in the family for generations. So, will it be an old-folks' crowd, or will they holler like it's 1986 all over again?