Mangok Mathiang continued his late season/ end of career spurt.
And Donovan Mitchell went ofer most of the game until a minute and a half personal coup d’etat gave the Cardinals game securing measure late . . .
. . . but first let’s begin with U of L’s wobbly start in its NCAA tourney opener.
As weirdly chalk as this tourney has been for the first day and a half — at least the games I watched before crashing mid Thursday night — there had been one thing missing. Which is a team or two that seems too nervous, too not ready for the moment. (Except, of course, that kid from Vandy who had a brain fart that cost the Commodores, and the New Orleans coach who let Mount St. Mary’s run out the clock as it wound down.)
OK, but other than those instances until, that is, the Cards took the floor in Indy against the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State, a middle of the pack Ohio Valley Conference #15 seed, which surprisingly snuck into the Dance with a league tourney title.
The school that shouldn’tabeen nervous was. The 20 point underdog was beyond the top of its game at tipoff. The highly regarded favorite Cardinals’ knees were knockin’.
The Cards, many of whom who’d never danced before, were shaky and fell behind 8 zed. Then stole the ball on a good defensive trip, only to get three offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession but failed to score including a Jaylen Johnson point blank slam.
Frankly, despite the eventual 78-63 victory, that lack of confidence at the beginning has me worried heading forward. If there is one trait that usually always shows up with Pitino coached teams ready to make a big tourney run, it’s that they throttle the lesser seeds from the get go in the early rounds.
It wasn’t until there was 6:41 left before intermission that Louisville displayed any pizzaz. Deng Adel netted Louisville’s first trey for the Cards’ first lead, 24-21. So nice he did it twice. DA tripled next trip down court, 24-19. Next possession: Quentin Snider from beyond the arc, 27-23. Then Q stole the ball and hit a deuce, 29-23.
That four possession in a row blitzkrieg, finishing off a 14-4 scoring run, gave the Cards some energy. And, more importantly, a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the afternoon.
The Cardinals seven point halftime advantage boomed out to 46-33 in less than four minutes of the second. U of L wavered a bit the rest of the way, never exerted total dominance, gave up too many treys — a really bad sign given who’s ahead on Sunday — but stayed the course.
Survive and advance.
There is no style point scoring this time of the season.
* * * * *
Because of foul trouble, and because V.J. King balled steady as his replacement, Deng Adel only saw 28 minutes of hardwood time.
He was 8/9 from the field. 2/2 at the line.
And was the catalyst for U of L’s W as described above.
Mango led U of L with 18. Q matched Adel’s 16, along with five assists.
Louisville’s leading scorer Donovan Mitchell was 3/15 from the field, including 0/6 from long range, but . . .
. . . those three buckets came in a 1:24 anschluss that pushed U of L’s lead to 70-55. He also had 10 rebounds. And five assists. And three steals. And a blocked shot.
Ray Spalding continued his stalwart play with 11 points and 4 rebounds.
* * * * *
Rick Pitino, not especially famous for his bench coaching, made an in-game defensive adjustment that went a long way toward steadying his charges and leading to the W.
He had the Cardinals stop switching in their man to man.
* * * * *
A win is a win is a win this time of year, but there is cause for worry with red hot Michigan on Sunday.
In their win over Okie State, the Wolverines hit 16/29 from beyond the arc, including a supernatural 11/15 (73%) in the second.
The Cards allowed Jacksonville State 53% bombing, 10/19. Norbertas Giga had taken but 32 treys prior to Friday afternoon. He was 5/5.
The Rick acknowledged the onerous task ahead.
“We’re playing the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.”
Actually U of L is playing a team balling at a higher level than that. The Wolverines have captured 11 of their last 13, including four in a row in the Big Ten tourney. The only two losses were that last second stunner at Northwestern on a full court pass and score, and at Minnesota.
The University of Louisville Cardinals need to be doin’ the tighten up.
On the plus side, the Cardinals were 11/14 at the line. Ever a good sign.
And were +14 on the boards against the Gamecocks.
Despite starting nervously, they only committed five turnovers.
The Cardinals were whistled for only 12 fouls. That’s good. What’s bad is that Mitchell and Adel had half of those, three apiece.
* * * * *
So, bottom Line: Louisville lives to fight another day. Specifically Sunday. The battle is against Michigan, the hottest team in the land.
— Seedy K