For the manner of victory hearkened back to the First Golden Age of Louisville hoops, say, ’72-’86. Back then, on any number of occasions, the Cards would be contesting a good but beatable conference foe on the road. They’d fall behind, but, ever resolute, would pull back, and take a lead around midway through the final stanza.
The home team, eager for a victory over the Cards, would stay the course.
So, to close, Louisville would need to score every possession down the stretch. Which, on way more occasions than not, the Cardinals did.
Were my memory more intact, I’d recite chapter and verse. But, it isn’t.
But even with all those “program wins” the Cards have celebrated through the decades, I’m not sure I can recall one quite as prodigious as last night’s.
Of course, it was set up by one of Louisville’s worst interludes of the year, coughing it up on three consecutive possessions, when a 40-37 advantage morphed quickly into a 40-41 deficit. To which Pitt scored 7 more in a row.
With 8:55 to play, and the Cards then down 40-48, Chinanu Onuaku missed a jumper.
It was the last field goal Louisville would not make.
The Cardinals, needing every one, connected on their last nine shots.
Damion Lee triple at 8:29. 43-48.
Deng Adel highlight slam at 7:38. 45-48. (More about that moment in a bit.)
David Levitch threeball. 48-48.
Adel layup. 50-50.
Adel trey. 53-52.
Quentin Snider 3. 56-54
Snider jumper 58-56. Soon thereafter, the Panthers’ Michael Young knotted the score again at 58 all. The teams, in a stunning offensive display at both ends had netted 12 FG attempts in succession, seven by the Cards, 5 by Pitt.
It should also be noted, that at the 2:51 media timeout, the scoreboard reading 58-58, U of L had five more FGs on the night, but was -12 at the free throw line.
Coming out of the timeout, the ball went to Nanu, posting in the pivot, and, for the second time during this amazing run, he reversed the ball with a skip pass to the weakside corner, this time to David Levitch, who calmly bullseyed the ball from beyond the arc. 61-58.
Pitt finally missed, and failed to connect on a 2d chance follow.
An Onuaku dunk, the Cardinals’ ninth made FG in succession, pushed the advantage to 63-58 at 1:07.
The weary, short-handed but dogged Cardinals closed it out at the line.
It was all pretty damn neat. Especially seeing the distraught look on Jamie Dixon’s face on the sidelines. Because U of L now owns that dude, having beaten his Panthers eight times in a row.
* * * * *
But for the fact that U of L coughed up a halftime advantage, eventually falling eight in the hole after the break, my lede would have focused on the just about equally astonishing end of the opening half.
In my recent piece on the ’86 champs, I mentioned how Denny Crum stole clock in the second half of the title game, when the Cards were in foul trouble.
“Stealing Clock,” meaning a team is able to stay within reach of its foe, while its main players are on the bench, due to foul trouble or injury or coach’s decision or all three.
Well, in the final quadrant of the first half, Rick Pitino went with a smile-inducing lineup of Lee, Q, Matz Stockman, Levitch and — this is not a typo — Jay Henderson. Which ragtag quintet proceeded to shut down Pitt without a FG for the final 5:31, and turn a 24-27 deficit into a 33-29 halftime lead.
The offensive possession, ending with a Q triple at :56 was exquisite, the proverbial poetry in motion.
* * * * *
And, then, there was this.
Announcing Understatement of the Year: “That will quiet the crowd.”
What it did was push those one-handed hammer slams in recent weeks by Deng’s roomie, Donovan Mitchell, and Jaylen Johnson, into a tie for second as best dunk of the campaign.
Deng Adel, you are now officially a member of Delta Omega Delta, the Doctors of Dunk fraternity.
Guess, were the game today, it would also be Throwdown Thursday.
A few weeks ago, I got a missive from a loyal reader and Cardinal fan, advising that he just wasn’t sold on Adel.
To which I replied and repeat, “tsk tsk.”
* * * * *
I’m not going to go through all the numbers. But feel compelled to honor a few that are noteworthy.
Adel went for 12 and 7.
Onuaku had 6 assists, in addition to his 5 boards and ten points.
Q had 7 assists, along with his team-leading 14 points, and was +13.
David Levitch scored 8 points in 16 minutes, while dominating U of L’s +/- line, with a +19.
* * * * *
Aside from the continuing colloquy among members of the L1C4 Nation as to the efficacy of the self imposed post season ban, there is another major ongoing consideration.
Rick Pitino: Should he stay? Or, should he go?
Only time will tell — Duh!?! — but my guess is he will survive this latest scandal, and retire on his own terms. He loves his young team, as well he should. And I don’t see Tom Jurich, a bottom line guy, pulling the plug.
But what I’m getting to here is that another of the vexing characteristics of the Pitino Era has finally manifested itself in this cockamamie campaign.
Mangok Mathiang: Out for the rest of the season with injury.
Anas Mahmoud: More than likely out for the rest of the season with injury.
And, now, Ray Spalding, out for last night’s road game, and possibly more, with a groin injury.
I’ve never quite understood why so many players have gotten hurt every year during the Pitino Era?
* * * * *
Another interesting — disturbing??? — phenomenon is showing up among Cardinal fans.
Best expressed by a diehard I spoke to you yesterday, for the first time in awhile, when he asked rhetorically, “Do we care as much since we can’t play in the NCAA?”
He is far from alone. I’ve had big fans tell me they’ve stopped watching, more telling me they don’t care as much.
Another fan, yesterday said, “It’s a shame we’ll never know how good this team is.” To which, I responded, “We will if we beat Miami and UVa on the road.”
My point is not to open the argument over whether the Ramsey/Jurich ban was prudent or the right thing to do? It’s done, so we as fans should accept it. Or, so I would suggest. I have.
What I don’t understand though is losing interest in this team. and the regular season.
Louisville, unranked to start the campaign, young, inexperienced and injured, actually has a legitimate shot to win the ACC regular season crown.
That accomplishment would be HUGE. That they are in the hunt with a week and a half to play was incomprehensible after the debacles in Puerto Rico.
The Cards are tied with Miami, a game behind Carolina. If U of L wins out, they’d have road Ws against the Hurricanes and Virginia and a senior night W over Georgia Tech. And they hold the tiebreaker over Carolina, having defeated the Tar Heels in the Yum!.
Roy Williams squad still has to travel to Duke and Charlottesville.
So three Cardinal Ws and Carolina L, and Louisville wins the ACC regular season crown.
It ain’t dancin’, but it’s a helluva consolation prize.
I’ve been loving the Cardinals for more than a half century now. It’s always been about the journey. About being in the gym, letting the excitement build before tipoff. About winning the game being played now, not the next one.
So, yeah, I’m as disappointed as any fan. Championship Week and Selection Sunday will be tough. Though I’ll watch every nanosecond of the NCAA tournament, it will be with more dispassion than usual.
But I’m locked in for the three more encounters on the agenda. I love the Cardinals, post season or not.
— Seedy K