Loathe as I am to give my pal, my nemesis and long time Cardinal fan, The Professor, credit for any insight, I admittedly rue this moment for what I’m about to say. And shall be paying for it, for a good while, I suppose.
But when he’s right, he’s right.
For the second game in a row, the Cards pulled out a Jersey Victory. Which was the message Prof sent me after the game.
Not Jersey in the Paulie Walnuts sense, but jersey in that the continuum of the Louisville Cardinal tradition prevailed. While last night, Georgia Tech did what it usually does on the hardwood, i.e. remain the Ramblin’ Wreck, just as Miami’s Hurricanes couldn’t close the deal against U of L the other day at the Yum!.
No, here, it’s Jersey as in a program that’s had a winning tradition for decades. One where the force of long time accomplishment, where the spirit of Hickman and Crum and Unseld and Griffith and Ellison and Siva, where the come through in the clutch of Hancock and Tony Branch, are sewn in Cardinal unis with every stitch.
The Rick, as his bromantic campadre Coach K speaks of Duke, tends to refer to Louisville’s brand. As in, “we’re rebuilding the brand,” which he reiterated often in the resurgence to the ’13 national crown.
To me, it’s a loathsome term. Too Don Draper. Too “Mad Men.” Too Mad Ave.
To me, it’s about The Program. The Tradition.
How many times has Louisville prevailed in this situation through the years, simply because the Cards’ essence of victory, greater than its foe’s, prevails? Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time. But. there are games like last night’s and last Saturday’s, when one school knows how to win, has the will to do so, while the other falters.
Given all the above jabberwock, the kind of exultant hyperbole that comes from such victory snatch, a W was far from a given.
During a 0-7 Tech run midway through the 2d half, The Rick, his hair greying before our eyes,1 usually pacing, animated, with arms waving and foot stomping, sat forlornly in his chair, head in hands. The Cards were down 13, 28-41, and I jotted this in my notes: “Will L win another game?”
Improbably. Inelegantly. Perhaps, for the romantics among us, inevitably. And, certainly, for those watching on TW cable, where ESPN’s feed was jittery, not in HD. The Cards answered my query.
Louisville 52, Georgia Tech 51.
* * * * *
Perspective is important here for Louisville fans, cloaked as they be in the thrill of victory.
An L would have been devastating.
Tech, notwithstanding all the folderol about how Brian Gregory’s squad is better than its 11-16 record, is not a very good basketball team. Yet they outscored the Cards in the paint by a dozen, tallied 19 breakaway points to just 7 for U of L, while garnering 4 more 2d chance points.
Yes, the W was imperative, well deserved, gained through grit. A reason to be proud. And, that Jersey psychobabble notwithstanding, inexplicable.
But it’s hardly a harbinger of future success with March just past a trip Saturday to Tallahassee.
Jay Williams: “This is painful to watch.”
Seth Greenburg: “Louisville is not a good basketball team right now.”
Yeah, well, take this, Studio Dudes, a W on the road in the conference, especially in late February, regardless of the foe, is — all together now — a Martha Stewart “good thing.”
* * * * *
How did it happen?
Well, when it came about was surely not in the first half.
Yet again, the Cards opened like their engines needed a trip to my man Johnny Cecil for a tune up. U of L’s total output in its first 7 possessions of the game, a Terry Rozier deuce.
Plus, it’s not like they finished the opening stanza with any sort of rush either. In the final 9:27 before the break, U of L got a deuce from surprise starter Shaqquan Aaron, a Montrezl Harrell layup, another by Quentin Snider, and a FT by Q.
And, well, and nothing else, that’s it.
Seventeen first half points, marking the sixth time this season the Cards haven’t reached a score of points before intermission.2
After the break, Louisville pulled close quickly, then faded.
The Cardinals never looked confident or settled or, frankly, very good on defense. Not when they were zoning. Not when they were man to man.
But . . .
. . . and then . . . and then . . . and then . . . along came Terry.
* * * * *
Frankly I’ve not been especially pleased with Rozier’s offensive game of late. (Not that he, or you, could give a shit.)
He’s been more than a bit selfish with the ball, forcing matters. He hasn’t been finishing strong. Etc, etc.
But . . . against Tech, when it mattered, he displayed eye of the tiger determination.
8:36: TR 3. 31-41.
7:57: TR 3. 34-41.
Followed by a Harrell deuce, and, at 6:45, a Blackshear trey. (More about my man Wayne in a moment.) 39-41.
After that, even looking at my cheat sheet, the official play by play, it all becomes a blur. Rozier hit another three, and canned two important FTs. Then another layup.
And, finally, emphatically, four seconds after a Tech end to end tying tally, ignoring his coach who wanted him to slow it down and run a Sosa play, he executed that furious endline to endline gettaoutamyfuckin’way dash (and Tech) for another layup to retake the lead for good at 50-48.
When it mattered, the gum chewer chewed up the opponent, finishing with 22 points on 8/19 shooting.
* * * * *
Huge rebounds. Eight for the night.
HUGE treys. Especially that no hesitation third chance long shot bullseye to knot the tilt at 46 with 1:50 on the clock.
And, oh yeah, after missing his first four charity tosses early in the game, he drilled those two absolutely necessary FTs at the :05 mark, to make it a two possession game.
Important FTs those, since a couple of seconds later, Tech cans its only three of the game, cutting the lead to that single wafer thin digit.
Which meant the Cards, for the win, had to survive feckless Anton Gill’s inbound pass to a spot right under the home team’s goal.
All’s well than ends . . .
* * * * *
Nanu had five boards, two steals, two blocks, including that game saving one at :07. He also tallied two points.
Q played steadily and with confidence. Six points. 4 assists. 4 rebounds.2 steals.
Anas Mahmoud also scored two, making it 7 Cardinals in the scorebook.
* * * * *
It was far from artful. Despite the win, U of L’s performance was always fraught with peril.
But it does give Louisville something to build upon, some hope.
The caveat: Savor this one, Cardinal fans, Ws are going to be hard the rest of the way.
— Seedy K