It can be said, that, after an up and down season on the court, and turmoil off the court, these tournament games are “icing on the cake.”
Or, perhaps, that, given the Cardinals unexpected arrival in the Elite Eight, Louisville is “playing with house money.”
But, given my affection for all things New Orleans, which I visit annually for JazzFest, I am inclined to call this marvelous, post-season surprise run, “lagniappe.”
Which generally translates as “an extra or unexpected gift or benefit.” Or, “a little something extra,” like the thirteenth doughnut in a baker’s dozen.
Since a surge to the Elite Eight is, frankly, more than a “little” something, I’d better capitalize my designation.
Lagniappe, how sweet this is.
* * * * *
For his game changing performance against the Wolfpack, I feel compelled to pull out this old Dan Patrick Sports Center shibboleth.
“You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.”
With 8:37 to play, the Cards up 53-47, Wayne Blackshear committed his 3d foul. Seconds later, attempting to thwart an easy NC State score inside, he was whistled for his fourth.
Enter Anton Gill.
The next few moments were not the Cardinals finest of the evening. Trevor Lacey wrapped a FT and threeball around a Leonard Freeman jumper, to put the Cards behind, 53-54.
Anton, it’s star time, are you ready for star time?1
The answer was Yes.
A drive from the wing, with a little reverse. AG deuce. 55-54. It was a lead at 5:54, the Cardinals would not relinquish.
An AG trey that found rim before net. 58-54.
After Ralston Turner immediately answered that, and a couple Terry Rozier FTs, the spotlight again shined on Mr. Gill.
A twisting, turning AG layup. 62-57. The Wolfpack were measured, their boarding passes back to Raleigh printed.
AG, playing weakside D according to plan, also made a critical steal with 2:09 to play.
* * * * *
Mr. Gill’s was not the only significant interlude in this Round of 16 W.
I’ll surely have more about Terry Rozier in a moment, but feel compelled at this time to acknowledge how very, very, extremely important was his three right before the halftime buzzer.
One guy’s opinion. Being down two at the break is significantly different than being down five. Especially when your foe has just bullseyed two of bazooka shots in the final minute of the opening stanza, turning a deficit into a five point advantage.
Plus, there’s this. The Wolfpack opened the second half with two more long shots, for a 39-31 lead. Which, but for TR’s trey, would have been 39-28, a minute into the second half of action.
What followed that opening 2d half Wolfpack fusillade was 5:08 of grit and determination, an interval which will help fashion our memories of this ’14-’15 edition of the Cardinals.
Montrez Harrell lay up. Assist to Rozier. 33-39.
Mangok Mathiang FT. 34-39.
Forced N.C. State turnover.
Two Trez FTs. 36-39.
Two Cardinal defensive stops in a row.
Harrell slam. Assist to Quentin Snider. 38-39.
Another Cardinal stop, but a score by N.C. State on its next possession. Which was matched within seconds by another Harrell layup, assist to TR. 40-41.
TR stole the ball on State’s next possession, which led to his made jumper. 42-41.
Another Cardinal stop, Rozier rebound, then a Rozier assist on the sequence’s coup de grace, a Q threeball. 45-41.
That 14-2 run actually became a 16-2 run, when Wayne Blackshear drained two FTs, after being fouled on an attempt from beyond the arc.
Of course, the Wolfpack weren’t finished, but the evidence was mounting that the Cards were full with the necessary resolve to finish the task.
* * * * *
You want a number that matters?
Here ’tis: 5.
In a Round of 16 game, with a freshman point guard who’s only been starting for a couple of weeks, Louisville only gave it up 5 times.
Five turnovers only., While pilfering the rock 5 times, and blocking 4 shots.
Here’s another stat, which, in the context of how this team played before its present incarnation, is telling.
15 assists on 27 made FGs.
Which is why I can report this splendid arithmetic. Louisville hit 50% from the field . . . in both halves. 13/26 in one, 14/28 in the other.
* * * * *
Terry Rozier, whose game has matured to a whole new level in the tournament, had 17 points. 14 — that’s correct — 14 rebounds. Four assists.
Trez had 24 points on 9/12 shooting, 7 rebounds and four assists.
Blackshear tallied 10.
Rookie Quentin Snider, whose calm and steady presence is a significant factor in this tournament run, scored 14, with three boards and three assists.
Mango grabbed six caroms, blocked three shots and assisted on two tallies.
* * * * *
It’s March. Coach Rick Pitino is Coach Rick Pitino.
Which means, since its tournament time, that U of L is more likely to overachieve than not.
Which it has done.
* * * * *
All of which means this.
Improbably, the Louisville Cardinals, who, despite winning 28 games, never seemed fully jelled or competitively cohesive, are a game away from a third Final Four appearance in four years.
Let that roll off the tongue for a second, “a game away from a third Final Four appearance in four years.”
Not that it’s a given.
Sunday afternoon’s opponent is Tom Izzo’s equally surprising Michigan State Spartans. Who are, despite their #7 seeding, a 2 1/2 point favorite. Because feisty Sparty is coached by Tom Izzo, who, like his Cardinal counterpart, is never to be overlooked in March.
The winner shall be the interloper in the Final Four.
But, Sunday . . . Sunday is Lagniappe for the Spartan and Cardinal faithful alike.
— Seedy K