Louisville CardFile: Pittsburgh

Though metaphorically bleeding for the last eight minutes and eleven seconds of a bruising battle, the U of L Cardinals persevered to prevail 73-68 at Pitt.

I don’t know if it’s all happening at the Oakland Zoo, whether the orangutans are indeed skeptical of changes in the their cages, but I do believe this is true. Cards hung tough and won again on the road in the ACC.

With 3:11 to play in regulation, Pitt’s Justin Champagnie retrieved a missed Xavier Johnson three, then the ball got to Trey McGowens who banked in a second chance long ball for a 61-54 lead.

“DAGGER,” I noted in all caps.

Thus the mention of blood flow in the lede. (It’s a push, but work with me here.)

Circumstance were dire at that moment late. Louisville’s last lead in the game came with 1:46 to play in the 1st, after a 10-0 blitz, featuring a Sam Williamson three from the corner, a Jordan Nwora jumper from the soft spot in Pitt’s zone at the top of the key, his transition 2 to tie it, and Steven Enoch following his own miss for the 28-26 lead.

But, just seconds later, the Panthers retook the advantage.

Down three at the half, U of L again stuttered to start the 2d, which fitful beginning was underscored by a Chris Mack T, and immediate foul trouble. U of L committed five in the initial 3:02 after the break.

Pitt kept Louisville measured. But the Cardinals, who are developing some grit, kept plugging. Pitt would go up five or six, and Louisville would answer with pugnacious D, a three, or a +1, or back door slam.

The Cards couldn’t get closer than a deuce, but never broke.

Then came that McGowens three for a 7 point lead with about 3:00 to play, and it seemed like it simply wasn’t meant to be for the Cardinals, regardless of their tenacity on display.

Ah, but what the Cards proceeded to do from then on, is what Chris Mack has been preaching since last season ended: FINISH.

Malik Williams followed a Fresh Kimble miss. +1. 61-57.

U of L held, denying the Panthers on their possession.

David Johnson, who is really starting to display his talents, whipped a pass to Fresh Kimble for a three. 61-60.

The Cards clamped down again at the defensive end.

Johnson converted the 2d of of two FTs. 61-61.

Louisville gave Pitt no good looks on its final possession. Even having to defend for longer than usual, when an inadvertent kick added :13 to the Panthers time with the ball, and a chance to to win.

That 7-0 run to end regulation sent the game to OT.

 * * * * *

U of L controlled in the extras. Johnson drove the lane for a deuce. Williams hit a FT.

Then at 3:06, Jordan Nwora fought for and snared a huge rebound on a Ryan McMahon miss, was fouled and netted both charity tosses for 66-62 lead.

With 1:36 to go, Dwayne Sutton reprised another of his game jarring moments as in South Bend. Nothing but net from long range in the corner. 69-64. Breathing room. (As against the Irish, DS swished another humongous trey earlier. With 4:21 on the clock in regulation, his bomb kept Louisville close at 56-54.)

The Cards converted enough FTs from then on to prevail. Especially important were two by Malik Williams with 24 seconds to go.

73-68. In the eye of this beholder it was a thing of beauty. Undefeated on the road in the league. Sublime.

Coach liked it too.

Chris Mack on how the Cards finished: “I think we throw the word toughness around a lot, and I think people always equate that to physicality, that’s a big part of it, but it’s just the mental toughness. Being able to come back after three or four possessions in a row where you can’t get the ball to go in the basket and still have the wherewithal to defend how you should, defend the way you practice, block out, and give yourself a chance to still be in a one or two possession game. I’m really proud of our group. It’s not easy to go on the road in conference play, I don’t care what conference you’re in, and I think people a lot of times think it does, and it’s just not as a rough environment. We got a lot of respect for the students, they were awesome, it was loud, they were amped up, and we found a way to win down the stretch and make plays and whether it’s Dwayne hitting the three in the corner or David Johnson playing his best game of his young career. Those types of things hopefully give us confidence in those moments in the future.”

 * * * * *

So, what were the key factors in this never give up W?

THAT play has to be mentioned. You know the one I’m referring to. The one where Pitt’s Terrell Brown tipped in a McGowens’ miss to knot the score in OT at 70. Until he was whistled for an over the back on the rebound, meaning the tally wasn’t one at all.

Williams made those two FTs mentioned above.

I shall not comment on the efficacy of said whistle. I shall quote The Professor: “It’s about time we got the benefit of an atrocious call.”

I am reminded, at the Zoo, while antelopes are missionaries, zebras are reactionaries.

What I’ll offer is, I’m glad it went the Cards’ way. It was, as we are wont to say these days, HUGE!!! I slept like the proverbial baby.

Here’s what else was huge: Louisville’s defense when it mattered. As in most of the game. Nwora, Sutton, Williams, and Kimble played strong, as we’ve come to expect. So too Samuell Williamson and Johnson. Mack mentioned Darius Perry’s D specifically.

Louisville’s fight.

Hitting 12/25 from beyond the arc was most germane.

David Johnson scored 11, grabbed 3 rebounds and dished out four assists. He made a couple of frosh mistakes, but still it was clearly his most impressive outing yet as a Cardinal. Loved the sequence when he missed a slam — just lay it in the basket, David —  then bullseyed a three during the same possession.

Dwayne Sutton’s, you know, Dwayne Suttonness. 13 and 9.

Like fellow senior Sutton, Ryan McMahon also netted a couple significant long balls late, and had a nifty feed to the post for two.

Fresh Kimble’s 6 dimes, and that impact three.

Malik Williams had 9 and 8.

Jordan Nwora led the team at both ends. His defense was noteworthy from the opening tip. Team +/-  high +11. 14 points. 6 rebounds.

 * * * * *

This victory felt like one of those program Ws the Cards would steal back in Denny Crum’s halcyon days. U of L wouldn’t be playing very well, usually on the road. In front of a rabid crowd, the foe would be pumped, and lead most of the way.

But Louisville would hang around, and force enough havoc that the opponent would falter at the end, allowing the Red & Black to carpe diem.

 * * * * *

The Cardinals travel to Cameron Indoor Saturday to face the Blue Devils, who fell last night at Clemson. Duke and the Cards are tied at the top of the ACC with 5-1 records.

— c d kaplan

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