But first, there’s this.
At this time of year when fan bases are entering gymnasiums across the land, wondering whether their favorite teams are pre- or post-bubblicious, when they are thinking maybe they should save themselves some grief and accept that dinner party invite the evening of March 17 at the home of their neighbors who just moved to town and don’t understand how sacrosanct that moment is around these parts, there’s a phrase that echoes across Hoopsylvania: “This game is a must win.”
For the reeling Louisville Cardinals, Notre Dame was indeed a “must win.”
If for self esteem alone.
And so V I C T O R Y That’s the Senior Battle Cry came to pass in a workmanlike manner, 75-61, over the underwhelming Fighting Irish.
There are any number of reasons why the Cards prevailed, the most important of which might be they not only didn’t fold down the stretch, not only did they hold on for the victory, but they actually increased the margin in the final quarter of the game.
They cut off the head of the beast to slay it.
ND’s John Mooney averages a double double. Which he almost had at halftime with 10 points and 9 boards. In fact, he is the leading rebounder, not only in the ACC, but in all of the nation’s major conferences.
Truth is, so consummate are his fundamentals, so solid his physicality, the Cardinals couldn’t contain him. At least until it mattered.
He netted a trey with 12:55 on the clock, to pull Mike Brey’s game Irish within six at 50-44. It looked like another worrisome down to the wire affair against a foe U of L should have been handling easily. Mooney had 20 points and 10 rebounds at that juncture.
Ah, but on this One & Done Senior Day, the Cards then shut him down.
The rest of the way, he canned a couple of FTs, grabbed three caroms, and th-th-that’s all, folks.
U of L outpointed the visitors by six down the stretch.
That U of L would hold on and prevail was never a sure thing until the final minutes. The Cardinals scored second chance points on each of their first five possessions of the 2d. They also gave up a trio of triples during that same opening segment.
Make no mistake, this Notre Dame squad with only three ACC Ws can’t even masquerade as an NIT team. A 76% FT shooting team on the year, they were only 4/14 at the line. Diminutive underneath, the visitors were battered on the boards, 49-30.
But, but, but . . . a victory this Sunday was still never a given, considering the fragile psyche of the Cardinals.
U of L prevailed despite draining but two of twenty two attempts from beyond the arc. That 9.1% lack of marksmanship is normally a harbinger of defeat, no matter the quality of the opposition.
Connecting on 28 of 41 inside the arc worked. 68% is a righteous number. Making 13/15 at the line is takin’ care of biz. Turning it over but 9 times, only three after the break, is a testament to focus.
Some Ws, even when the game “should” be a lock, are more important than others. Whether the good post-game vibes continue remains to be seen. But it’ll warm hearts for a bit as an Arctic mass descends from the Great White North.
* * * * *
VJ King played his best game in a long long long while.
Much to the delight of the assembled. I’m not sure I remember a U of L crowd so obviously cheering on a specific player. An aggressive VJ offensive board at 11-7 had the folks in the stands murmuring. His assertive drive for a deuce to make it 21-16 more so. His fierce rebound at 25-20 brought smiles.
When King’s follow pushed the Cards ahead 52-44, the crowd went nuts. And were even louder, after he drove and tallied and drew a +1 to push the lead to 14 at 60-46.
The first several questions at Chris Mack’s post game press conference were all about VJ. Mack spent about a third of his time, praising King and his fortitude.
Ten rebounds. Six points. Two assists. NO turnovers. Solid defense.
Good for him. Good for the Cardinals.
* * * * *
Allow me to reiterate what I’ve said before.
I love Malik Williams energy. I love Malik Williams effort. I love how he cheers his mates when he’s on the bench.
Sixteen points. Thirteen rebounds. Strong.
* * * * *
One thing I’ve never understood is how, when there’s controversy, when the refs go to the monitor, those watching on TV will eventually get a full explanation of the situation, while those in the gym may, if lucky, get an abbreviated, unclear clarification.
So I wasn’t sure what happened with a few ticks over 5:00 to play, when Darius Perry — who was solid throughout by the by — was whistled for an infraction while trying to bust through a pick.
After a monitor review, T.J. Gibbs missed the front end of a 1+1. Then Perry made 2 FTs, and U of L got the ball.
Turns out, at least according to my pal who balled for both Mamie S. Waggener and the Eli of Yale and watched on the telly, that there was a Flagrant Hook & Hold called on Gibbs, but the personal on Perry couldn’t be rescinded under the rules.
It would certainly seem appropriate that fans in the stands be afforded the same respect as those sitting at home in their La-Z-Boys.
* * * * *
Cardinal signee, Golden Arches A-A Samuell Williamson — Will he be known as Double L, or L2? — was introduced to the crowd during the first timeout of the 2d.
I’m not sure I ever remember that happening before, where a recruit who has already penned a LOI was publicly acknowledged over the PA.
I’ve never been a big fan of the cutesy things that fill the space during most of the timeouts. But I did get a kick out of fans singing along to classic Queen. Kind of reminded of the old days, when a rave up of the Village People’s “YMCA” was de rigueur.
Next: UVa. Fasten your seat belts.
— Seedy K