Lucas at Large: Forever a thorn, Cardinal finally gets his 'rose'

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Wills_Purdue_Cardinal.jpgLong before Brian Cardinal, or rather the "Custodian" became a household name - at least deep in the heart of Texas - he was called more colorful names by opposing fans around the Big Ten.

Many despised Cardinal because of his all-out hustle, flopping and rugged presence at both ends of the floor. No job was too dirty for Citizen Pain (a take-off on Orson Well's 1941 Citizen Kane).

Mostly they despised him because he didn't play for them.

"If you understand and appreciate the game of basketball, then you love Brian Cardinal," Kelvin Sampson once said of the Custodian (at the time Sampson was coaching at Oklahoma).

"If you don't understand the game of basketball," Sampson continued, "if you're caught up in the runners, jumpers, dunkers and flashy guys, that tells me a little about you.

"And those are the teams Brian Cardinal's team beats."

Wisconsin players, if not fans, embraced the Custodian's game.

"I think Brian Cardinal provoked the best in me," said former UW point guard Mike Kelley, no shrinking violet when it came to physical hoops. "Seeing him dive on the floor got me going."

Provoked was a good, action verb for Cardinal. He provoked all sorts of feelings (and confrontations). But that was also true of the 1999-2000 Purdue Boilermakers and Wisconsin Badgers.

The teams played four times that season and an average of 41 fouls were called, including 49 in a Big Ten tournament tug-of-war. Kelley and Purdue's Carson Cunningham needed stitches afterward.

"There's always blood," Cunningham said.

Purdue won the first battle, 63-52, in West Lafayette, extending the UW's losing streak to 26 games at Mackey Arena. Cardinal finished with 26 points, including five 3-pointers.

Wisconsin won the next two - 55-45 at the Kohl Center and 78-66 at the United Center.

"The Purdue games are the most physically demanding I've ever played," Kelley said.
    
On March 25, 2000, the No. 6 seed Boilers (24-9) and the No. 8 seed Badgers (21-13) played in the NCAA's West Regional Finals for the ultimate reward: a trip to Indianapolis and the Final Four.

"It's going to be a battle, a boxing match, 40 minutes of hell,'' Cardinal said before Purdue and Wisconsin squared off at the legendary Pit in Albuquerque, NM.

"I would love basketball to be played like it is with our two teams - with tough, hard-nosed guys," he added. "Regardless if you have the greatest talent, you have to play hard and great defense."

Jon Bryant broke Purdue's spirit early with three consecutive triples to open the game and the Badgers outdistanced the Boilermakers, 64-60, to earn their coveted trip to the Final Four.

Bryant wound up with five 3-pointers and a game-high 18 points. Andy Kowske had 14 and Roy Boone had 12 for the Badgers. Cardinal and Cunningham scored 13 each for the Boilers.

Kelley once again locked up Purdue's gifted scorer Jaraan Cornell, who was 1-of-9. 
   
Kelley and Cardinal were the same players - only in different bodies and jerseys.

"I knew when I came into the league that if I was going to be successful, I'd have to do things other guys didn't like to do," said Cardinal, who could have been speaking for Kelley.

"If it's a battle of who can jump the highest, or who's the best athlete, I'm not going to win. But if you measure heart and competitiveness and desire, then, it's a battle. If there's a brick wall and the ball's on the other side of the brick wall, I'll go through it."

Cardinal finally got his ring - an NBA world championship ring with the Dallas Mavericks. He looks much different than he did when he used to arm-wrestle the Badgers and his role has changed.

But you still have to love his passion.

Mike Bruesewitz plays the college game the same way that Cardinal once did at Purdue. In the next two years, it will be interesting to see if Bruiser can elevate his game to the ol' bruiser's level.

Once thing is certain, Bruiser has better hair (versus no hair at all for the Custodian).

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