The game was a proverbial defensive bloodbath.
Despite that, one guy’s opinion, it was not the most intense defensive game Louisville has played. At least in my lifetime. But it’s a close second.
The Cardinals 46-50 L to Georgetown in the ’82 national semis topped it. The Hoyas outscored U of L 25-23 in each half. Patrick Ewing swatted away the Cards’ first three shots and, along with Ed Spriggs, Eric Smith and Mike Hancock battled the Brothers McCray and Charles Jones belly to belly, butt to butt, bump to bump, elbow to elbow in skirmishes that couldn’t have been more fierce in the paint had they been CGI enhanced.
Okay that’s for perspective, but enough history.
Yesterday, Montrezl Harrell, Chinanu Onuaku and Mango Mathiang finally wore down against the talent and length of UK’s bigs. Terry Rozier, Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear, after giving all they had on D, were gassed at the end, after taking hits from Kentucky depth charges all day.
Here’s how suffocating the blue visitors defense was. The Cards forced 18 UK turnovers. But were only allowed to turn those gaffes into 14 points.1 The Cats are long and fierce when they don’t have the ball. They get back.
Louisville was boffo without the ball also, until the players The Rick relied upon, a game six ballers, who played 189 of 200 minutes, started to wilt.
Jay Bilas: “Louisville has the most aggressive zone I’ve ever seen.”
Tale of the Tape. I went Jaws this morning, checking out a replay of the game, watching the last 32 minutes.2
I could discern no juncture when a play or two going in the Cards’ favor would have changed the outcome. Not if Blackshear had canned all three FTs at 1:32 to cut the deficit to 5, nor any moment before. Though U of L had its chances, such as early with its only lead at 13-12, when TR took a horrid shot after the Wildcats committed their 9th turnover of the tilt, followed by an ill-advised trey attempt by Jones the next time down court.
UK is better. Better coached. More talented. A better team. Displayed more hustle, at least yesterday, as when Cauley-Stein out-scrapped Harrell for a loose ball then a jam at 18-24.
Kentucky was going to prevail.
Losing to the Wildcats this season is no disgrace. They could be a team for the ages, though that story is far from told.3
Recruiting Luck. Tyler Ulis, easily the most dominant player on the floor, if the smallest, is to Kentucky as Gorgui Dieng was to Louisville. A recruiting afterthought, with a serendipitous result.
The Cards went for Dieng, only after striking out with Fab Melo, who ended up at Syracuse, where he underperformed.
Calipari hustled Ulis, and landed him, only after losing Emmanuel Mudiay to SMU, where he never played, winding up in China.
Offensively Offensive. It is apparent to anybody paying attention that Louisville’s success this season shall ultimately be determined by its ability to overcome its current malaise with the ball.
The team is without any facilitators whatsoever, though Anas Mahmoud, who didn’t see any action against UK, is a canny and intuitive passer.
Rozier and Jones are not point guards. It’s simply not the nature of their games. That’s reality.
While Jones forces the action way too much, driving into trouble, not seeing the wings on breakaways, flops like a wannabe at Beef & Boards, etc, making him an easy scapegoat, he is not the sole villain here.
Shannon Spake, ESPN’s sideline blonde, reported a conversation with The Rick, when the U of L coach lamented at halftime that he no longer had Russ or Luke.
Really? Hadn’t noticed that, coach.
Well then, here’s a suggestion, how about you design an offense that makes the best possible use of the talent available? One where the players and ball moves. One where Silent L and Mango aren’t forced to put the ball on the floor.
Which offense hasn’t yet shown its face.
While playing an entire game as a Top 5 team with but one wafer thin assist is a stunning stat, it is not, to be honest, that surprising. So far, U of L’s offense hasn’t been geared to getting players catch and shoot FG attempts. As long as the plan is to score off the dribble, the assist column will look bleak.
Zebras are Reactionaries. I thought the officiating trio of Karl Hess, Roger Ayers and Michael Roberts called a marvelous game.
They let the team’s play. They didn’t nit pick, as when they could have given Chris Jones a flagrant foul for elbowing Tyler Ulis, but, even after watching on the monitor, didn’t choose to do so.
They let the bigs be bigs underneath. Had they not, it would have turned into a free throw shooting contest, and we’d still, this Sunday morning, be at the Yum! waiting for the final buzzer to sound.
Cleaning the Glass. Kentucky did. Louisville didn’t.
The final rebounding edge was was 13, 46-33. It was nine at the half.
The Cards were better in the first nine or so minutes of the second half, but eventually wore down.
Wistful Thinking. Here’s what I jotted in my notes as Wayne Blackshear stepped to the line with three FTs, with 1:32 to play, and a chance to cut the lead to five.
And, if you don’t know the reference, well . . .
Platoon in the Spittoon. While the hype will remain, there’s going to be less platooning by the Cats as the season progresses.
Coach Calipari, for all his hucksterism and snake oil salesmanship, is also a good coach. Just like the rest of us, he can see that his team is better when Ulis and Booker are playing along with WC-S, Lyles and Towns. That’s the group that is going to get the major PT.
Like the Terminator, those scowling Harrison Twins are likely to be pissed, and, after they talk to pro scouts, be back next year for another crack at proving their mettle.
Cards on the Court. It’s also going to be fascinating to watch how The Rick manages his players from now on.
Will he gamble on more PT for Snider and Aaron even Levitch/ Gill, realizing, perhaps, that it may result in more offensive flow and better team play?
Give Mahmoud more PT, despite his lack of strength, or even Jaylen Johnson, to facilitate a high/low game with Harrell and Onuaku underneath?
Cardinals’ Bottom Line. The Cards shot 26% from the field, were outrebounded by 13, had only one assist, but two fast break points and only 3 points off the bench.
Yet still only succumbed to a team that might be the best in college hoops in four decades by 8 points.
Ken Pomeroy still has the Cards ranked #5, despite having only the 53d best O in the land. Jeff Sagarin has them at #6. As does the astute Gary Parrish of of cbssports.com, who was in the house yesterday.
So, despite my consternation, and that of many disappointed if not despondent Cardinal fans, the sky is not falling.
Wildcats’ Bottom Line. History is theirs to make. Or not.
Meet the Press. Rick Pitino makes over $5 million per year. His job is to coach, recruit . . . and to keep the people paying him that obscene amount of money informed. He’s talked with the press less than ten minutes in the last several weeks.
When he is willing to open up, his tendency is to favor the national media over the local guys, who cover the Cards day in and day out.
He always gets testy before the Kentucky game, especially so since Coach Cal took over in Lexington. So, his abdication of responsibilities has become the norm. But, as one local scribe said yesterday before the game, “It’s no excuse for him to be a dick.”
Our Tinseltown Star is Shinier than Their Tinseltown Star. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence was in the house. And she’s more famous than Ashley Judd.
So, na na nanna na na, take that.
I’m also advised that Jim James is a big Cardinal fan too.
So, yeah, that’s right.
— Seedy K