Don Redden quickly cut to the meat of the problem today, following Louisiana State's NCAA tournament semifinal loss to Louisville.

"Without John Williams," Redden said, "we're just a mediocre team."

And that's just what the Tigers were for the final 15 minutes of the game, after Louisville's defense and LSU's haste led to Williams' virtual disappearance.

"He's our bread and butter," said Redden, LSU's senior swing man who had to carry the offense in the second half. "We've been running high on emotion and high on intangibles for awhile now. But anybody knows that can only carry a team so far."

The Tigers needed Williams, whose average of nearly 18 points led the team, to carry them. But he was wrapped in Cardinal red, and a subsequent funk.

Ironically, it was a rather hard-to-believe shot by Williams that put LSU ahead, 54-48, with 15:13 remaining.

Williams, who had scored 12 points on six-for-11 shooting the first half, got hung up in the air with no place to go. He was falling to the floor when he flipped the ball up, and in.

That was the only field goal Williams would make in six attempts in the second half. For much of the final 15 minutes, Williams couldn't even find room to shoot.

In the first half, when Louisville played a lot of man-to-man on Williams -- or did a poor job of double-teaming -- he scored 12 points.

"You know and I know John is a great one-on-one player," LSU guard Anthony Wilson said. "At 6-foot-8 with that wide body 240 pounds , strong and quick, you damn near can't beat him him down low with one defender."

The Cardinals got tough in the second half, and put at least two men around Williams when he sought a spot in the low post.

"We had a combination of people on him," Louisville freshman center Pervis Ellison said. "We play a switching defense down low and some of everybody was on him."

Mostly, it was forward Billy Thompson and another weak-side defender who would drop back on Williams. "Looked like the entire team to me," LSU's Ricky Blanton said.

Williams, who was steaming after the game, said the double-team "wasn't nothing I haven't seen before."

And when asked if his teammates got him the ball enough, he said: "That's something you'd have to ask them."

Beyond that, Williams made himself about as scarce as he had been on the court in the second half.

Whatever chance LSU had of continuing its improbable season diminished to none when Redden (team-high 22 points) hit a cold spell.

While Redden missed three straight shots and Williams two, Louisville scored 17 of 18 points for a 10-point lead.

After that, LSU rushed down and took jumpers, almost neglecting to look for Williams.

"They threw us out of our game plan with that double-team and our jump shots weren't falling," guard Derrick Taylor said.

Wilson added: "We should have brought the ball back out after beating the Cardinals' press into the front court and run our offense until we got some better shots.

"Getting the ball to the open man got us this far. But today, when they doubled John, that left an open man and we didn't find him."

Redden said there was more to it than that. "The way they played defense, it was awfully hard to get it inside to the big fella," he said.

LSU Coach Dale Brown said the result was "just not what we wanted out of our offense."

Williams was the first Tiger to shower, dress and exit the locker room. Hitting only seven of 17 shots was not the way he wanted this season to end.

His counterpart, Thompson, had made 10 of 11 shots from the floor and grabbed 10 rebounds to boot.

"I don't have to talk to anybody if I don't want to," Williams said, ducking out of sight.

"He hates to lose more than anybody else on our team," Redden said. "And when he doesn't get to contribute the way he wants, he feels like he's let the team down."