In an opening round squeaker, the Cards, flummoxed by the presence of a 7-6 Senegalese Anteater aberration, were pushed to the brink before prevailing. While last night in its Round of 32 encounter, U of L took a 14-13 lead it never relinquished over favored Northern Iowa after 8:21 of play, keeping the Panthers measured until midnight tolled for the erstwhile Final Four wannabe from the Mo Valley.
So, prone to frustrate even its most ardent fans, but fortitude rich and full of pleasant surprises, this feisty 2014-15 edition of the University of Louisville Cardinals forges ahead to a Sweet Sixteen date in Syracuse with conference chum North Carolina State.
As one loyalist hummed, as the clock ticked down, the victory secure, “You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.”
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That the Cardinals never lost the lead in the second half, doesn’t mean there weren’t moments that increased the heart rate. This was, after all, the NCAA tournament, with the last berth of the second weekend’s games the prize.
So, it came to pass that some Panther other than Seth Tuttle would have to come to the fore, since NI’s leader had been harried out of his game the entire night by Montrezl Harrell & Company. Credit Nate Buss on the stat line with Rescue, Attempted: 1; Rescue, Failed: 1.
Two Buss tallies down the stretch, the Louisville lead narrowed to six, hope glimmered for the Corn Belt faithful, with the score 55-49. The Cards turned it over after the second of those makes, one of only seven floor errors on the evening. Wes Washpun broke from the pack for what appeared would be a snowbird that would cut the deficit to four.
Wayne Blackshear hustled back, altered the FG attempt, for which he should have been but wasn’t credited with a block in the box score, Quentin Snider grabbed the miss, passed to Terry Rozier, who radared the rock to the rim, into the hands of Trez who flushed it.1
57-49. Ball Game!
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Let me now praise Rick Pitino.
He has mentored the Cardinals to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth year in a row.
For the first time ever in school history.
That’s right, kids, not even in the halcyon days of the 80s, when Denny Crum’s Cardinals were the team of the decade, were they still dancing this late four straight times.
Lore has it that the current Cardinal coach is at his best when there is time to prepare. Which translates, as the mythos has evolved, to success in the first games of March weekend tournament sets.
Well, good, and correct. Pitino is 11-1 in the Round of 16. And, 43-7 in the NCAA tournament when he’s coaching the higher seeded team. Which he shall be when the Cards face the Wolfpack.
What is to be admired on this day is how the team has gotten to this point.
The effort against Northern Iowa was clearly Louisville’s best of the season. Pitino’s game plan was exemplary.
On defense, the Cards rarely played the same in consecutive trips. Man to man. Straight zone. Switching zone. Man to zone, and back, you know, the defense that Pitino put in the trash can several weeks back because he deemed it too complex for his relatively young squad. But, when used last night, it was even more complicated for the Panthers.
Northern Iowa hit less than 40% of their shots; only 31% from long range, where the Panthers had hit 40% for the season.
On offense, U of L’s flow never abated. Even when Terry Rozier, crafting his best game, was dribbling and probing, it was never without purpose, never stiffling. The ball, for the most part was constantly moving, so too, the players.
It was obvious early on, that this would be the case. During Louisville’s fourth possession of the night, the ball went into Harrell who was posting up. Double teamed, he immediately pivoted and skipped a pass to Blackshear on the weakside, who, checked, just as quickly whipped it to Rozier for a trey.
Pitino, with the aid of Richard the Younger, who was in the house and addressed the squad, crafted a marvelous game plan. Which the players executed almost to perfection.
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My favorite stat lines.
U of L committed only 7 turnovers.
U of L was 17/21 at the FT line. 81%. Sweet.
Louisville committed only 7 fouls in the second half, the last couple late. Which meant, for the second game in a row, the Cards played great defense without fouling, and had fouls to give. Which is a Martha Stewart good thing, when you have the lead.
Louisville’s opening two foes shot but 15 FTs.2
Terry Rozier was . . . magnificent, totally in control. 25 points on 8/13 shooting. 8/9 at the line. 5 rebounds. 7 assists.
Quentin Snider was . . . mature, a steady hand at the point. 10 points, including a couple treys. 4 rebounds.
Wayne Blackshear was . . . (as always) my man, doing the little things that spell victory. Including that game saving block. His first FG attempt was a driving layup that rimmed out. Undeterred, he canned a three next trip down court. 10 points. 6 rebounds.
Montrezl Harrell was . . . relentless. Despite having a minor meltdown during U of L’s one wobbly phase, when he missed three shots in a row, two of them ill-advised jumpers. 14 points. 6 rebounds. 2 blocks.
What Jaylen Johnson, with three points, and Chinanu Onuaku and Anton Gill and Anas Mahmoud, with two key FTs, and Shaqquan Aaron and David Levitch did was . . . provide steady, error-free relief.
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I gotta ask.
On that play when Q fouled Seth Tuttle with 2:25 to go before intermission, wasn’t the bang bang action worth a look at the monitor? Tuttles, on his follow through, raked his hand (fist?)across Harrell’s face, dropping Trez to the hardwood.
Given how frustrated the Panther star obviously was, given the level of harassment he was facing, it might have been on purpose. Perhaps not. But, in these days when the zebras rarely hesitate to check themselves at the scorer’s table, it sure seemed worth a consideration.
The only other “controversial” moment was the correct non-call of Terry Rozier’s “over and back,” with two and a half minutes to play.
Panther coach Ben Jacobson went ballistic at the refs failure to whistle, drawing a bench warning.3
The replay showed, however, that, even though Rozier had crossed the mid-court stripe, the ball had not. So there was clearly no violation.
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Bottom line: Louisville — let’s be honest here, unexpectedly — joins four of its ACC brethren, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Where, in the Carrier Dome, it shall meet one of those familiar foes, the N.C. State Wolfpack. Who got the better of the Cards 74-65 on Valentine’s Day.
— Seedy K