Playing Duke is always big.
Beating Duke is always huge.
Beating Duke when it really matters confirms that life is good, and the basketball gods are shining their countenance down on the Cardinals.
Just as those ’86 national champs honored yesterday conquered the Blue Devils for the title, and the ’13 national champions throttled the Blue Devils in the regional final on the way to that title, the ’15-’16 Cardinals persevered yesterday at the Yum! in what was essentially a tournament game.
Louisville 71, Duke 64.
* * * * *
Oh, and shame on me perhaps for admitting it in print, but we all know what our favorite moment is from yesterday’s come from 13 behind W.
With 12:58 to play, Jaylen Johnson did what every one of his Cardinal teammates loved, what every member of the L1C4 Nation loved, frankly, what college hoops fans across the land loved: He rocked a jackhammer elbow into the kisser of Grayson Allen.
As Christian Laettner was to the Land o’ College Hoops and most especially to the Big Blue Nation, Grayson Allen is to U of L.
Ladies and gentlemen who bleed red & black, we have our bête noire, and his name is . . . oh you know, the fellow who should have been ejected the last time the teams played, for intentionally tripping Ray Spalding. The guy, who confirmed what everybody always believes about Duke — that they get away with more fouls than any other team — when he actually committed six infractions in yesterday’s tilt.
The tapes confirm that he did crash into — it’s almost too coincidental to be true — Jaylen Johnson, who was set and outside the circle, with 3:55 on the clock, for his 5th foul. And that his “that’s fucking bullshit” rant at the ref in response thereto was officially number six.
Don’t bother knockin’, the Yum! was rockin’.
* * * * *
Somebody mentioned after the game how the Blue Devils roster is depleted, and what a big factor that was.
Well, yeah, maybe. But, you know what, a couple of significant Cardinals, Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud, were in street clothes on the bench. And leading scorer Damion Lee was obviously not a 100% after busting a finger on his left hand during warmups.
Which is to say, I ain’t buyin’ that excuse. Especially since Duke had won five in a row, with three Top 25 teams among that list of victims.
* * * * *
Because the Now, meaning this shortened season, is quickly coming to an end, it is natural to look ahead.
The future is very bright. While Rick Pitino often prevaricates, one thing he’s said this year rings true. He feels he has the best freshman class in the country. It’s hard to disagree.
Yesterday was proof of that. Brandon Ingram, the star among Coach K’s heralded golden Arches rookie crop, was hounded into 9 turnovers. He scored two treys in Duke’s first three possessions of the game, and just a lone deuce after that, early in the second half. Luke Kennard fouled out, and the lauded shooter, who I swear didn’t miss a shot during warmups, went 3/10 from the field, 1/5 from long range.
PG Derryck Thornton did not have a single assist.
Meanwhile, the last of the Cardinal newcomers to have his coming out proved worthy of Dick Vitale’s hyperbole. Deng Adel scored 12 on 5/7 shooting, and grabbed 5 rebounds. His defense smothered. His play was alert.
Ray Spalding had a dominating four minute stretch in the first half. He hit his first three of the season at the 11:50 mark. Twenty seconds later, he made a deft pass to Chinanu Onuaku, for a deuce, garnering an assist. Then he drained a jumper, and followed that with a slam. During the next minute and a half, he grabbed two defensive and one offensive rebounds.
Because of the nature of the game, and the performances of others in the backcourt, Donovan Mitchell only played 13 minutes yesterday. He was solid defensively and delivered a couple key assists. His considerable prowess has been proven previously.
It is difficult not to be overexcited. Understanding that, I will still go on record with this. Should Nanu stick around for at least one more campaign, and V.J. King be one-third the baller he is acclaimed to be, U of L will be odds on to win the national crown next season.
* * * * *
It is hard to tell just how much Derryck Thornton’s absence from the game in the second half affected the outcome. The Cards had already whittled the Blue Devils once 13 point advantage to 5, and Duke’s eight minute scoring drought from the field had already started, when he was hurt with 9:18 to play, and left the game. When he returned, upon Allen’s mandatory, inelegant exit, U of L led 66-59. A couple Thornton buckets on consecutive possessions cut the Cards’ lead to a deuce.
So, yes, Thornton’s absence was a legitimate factor in Louisville’s comeback.
But . . . not the determining factor . . . this was one of those games that Louisville simply wasn’t going to lose. The team was focused. The Yum! was hummin’. A throwback W.
* * * * *
Damion Lee and Trey Lewis led.
Lewis was steady. Five assists. No turnovers.
Due to his taped left hand, Lee struggled early on, losing the handle several times. But his three treys in a two and a half minute span late were the turning point, pushing the Cards from two down to four ahead.
* * * * *
Jaylen Johnson — “Motown” — was strong.
His stats aren’t flashy. But his slam, during that late Lee barrage, was big. And he didn’t shy from firing that key 12 foot J that increased the Cards lead to 63-57. Then he did his Milt Wagner impression at the line with :41.5 on the clock, going net net for a six point cushion.
Plus he gets style points, and a place forever in the hearts of Card fans, for drawing blood from Grayson Allen.
Onuaku turned in another double double. Ten points. Eleven rebounds. And four blocked shots. And three assists. And a steal.
* * * * *
Loved those cream colored Cardinal throwback unis. Wear ’em all the time, guys.
Two tough road tests this week. Pitt. Miami.
— Seedy K