Pitino has been a long time believer in specific game preparation, in cutting off the head of the foe. It is no accident that, when his teams play their best, the leaders of the opponent have an off game. Oh how many times, when he was coaching UK, were U of L’s leading scorers non-factors in the annual rivalry game?
Too damn many.
That was the story again yesterday, as Louisville, for the first time in over a half century, eked ahead of the Hilltoppers all-time in their series with 40 Ws to WKU’s 39.
Louisville had more than doubled up on the visitors, leading 34-16 at intermission. The Toppers leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore Justin Johnson, had more turnovers (1) than points, zero. As in, squadoosh. Scoreless.
For good measure, Western’s only other double figure scorers, Fredrick Edmond and Aaron Cosby, were held to 4 and 2.
Six points in the opening stanza for a foes’ three leaders. That’s Pitino planning, and execution at its best. As a team, the Ed Diddle towel wavers were 7/21 (33%) from the field, and had but 3 offensive boards.
The Rick himself called it Louisville’s best defensive performance of the season.
Who am I to disagree?
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Youthful impetuousness reared its head after halftime.
U of L left its focus in the locker room. Western Kentucky scored the second half’s first six points, ten of its first twelve, and 19 of the first 27. The Toppers also snared 12 of the first 16 boards after the break, evening that battle at 25 rebounds apiece, at the second media timeout.
After a couple Aaron Cosby FTs with 14:34 on the clock, the Cardinals’ lead was no longer so commanding at 42-35.
It was Reality Check Time. How would U of L respond against a well-coached rival in front of the biggest Yum! crowd of the season?
The Cards, I’m happy to report, did the Archie Bell & the Drells “Tighten Up.” They not only sang, they danced just as good as they wanted, going off on a 12-3 run.
Insert appropriate musical interlude here:
Here’s how that melody went. Damion Lee layup +1. Ray Spalding slam. Lee three. And, oh Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee, two more Damion FTs. And a Trey Lewis snowbird.
54-38. Harm’s Way sent packin’.
Oh, I can’t help myself. Musical interlude numero deux.
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There is, of course, a yin and yang to hoops, just as there is to life itself. Because, well, as we know, college basketball is life itself.
So, we must celebrate Chinanu Onuaku’s 10 point, 12 rebound double double. As we must accept that vocal team leader Mangok Mathiang will be out for a couple of months with one of those vexing fractured 5th metatarsal foot injuries.1
We’ll find out if Anas Mahmoud can meet his promise. Or, if Jaylen Johnson, who had not one but two nifty under the hoop reverse tallies yesterday, can step up. JJ scored 8, and grabbed six caroms for the day.
Or, if Matz Stockman, the new fan fave, can actually contribute when it matters. That is, if The Rick actually uses him. Yesterday, with the Hilltoppers measured for good midway through the second half, Matz continued with his pine time.
Mango’s out. Deng Adel and Mahmoud return. What would a Pitino Regime U of L season be without major injuries to deal with? It’s a given.
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The maturity of Lee and Lewis notwithstanding, Quentin Snider remains the guy who has to be on the court as much as possible. He’s the ringmaster. Again yesterday, he led U of L in assists with four. He was also leading scorer with 16.
The Rick: “I like the way Q is playing.”
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It was U of L’s most impressive W of the year.
This isn’t a stellar Western Kentucky team. Before the game, former coach Jim Richards lamented, “We just can’t recruit any players.” But this is a long time rivalry battle, and Ray Harper knows how to coach ’em up.
This W is worth a passel over the likes of Eastern Kennesaw Valley State.
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Rather than braying on about my early season Cardinal schedule obsession, I provide this quote by the oft pithy Tim Sullivan:
“. . . a U of L team that has managed to exceed expectations despite a non-conference schedule that could pass for a pastry cart.”
Next Up: The UMKC Andre McGees. Tuesday. Remember to take a nap. It’s a 9:00 PM tipoff.
— Seedy K