Really good teams, i.e. legit contendas, do not lose at home in late February. Especially experienced ones on Senior Day.
Miami is a really good team. Miami is among those 20 or so schools that the pundits are saying could slip into the Final Four, and beyond. Miami, which starts three seniors and two juniors is experienced.
Miami is really well coached. Jim Larranaga is arguably the least heralded, excellent mentor in college hoops.
So, truth be told, the inevitable occurred yesterday in Coral Gables. On Senior Day, the Hurricanes did what really good teams do. They outplayed another good team, Louisville, down the stretch, and prevailed, 73-65.
* * * * *
What a difference 72 hours and a change of venue makes.
At Pitt, Louisville stole clock when in foul trouble, and hit its last nine shots to overmatch the underwhelming Panthers.
At Miami, U of L missed 11 of its last 12 FG attempts. The only connection was Quentin Snider’s too late three with :21 on the clock, and the game already lost.
At Miami, it was the Hurricanes who stole clock. Center Tonye Jekiri, who did a masterful job of helping keeping Chinanu Onuaku in check after halftime, picked up his fourth foul with 10:35 to play, with the Cards up 49-47.
When the Canes’ cog in the middle returned six minutes of clock time later, his team was only a point behind.
Significant sub Ivan Cruz Uceda, who singed the Cards, hitting 3/3 beyond the arc, left the game after his fourth foul at 8:25, and never returned.
So, ya know, there’s the yin and yang of it.
* * * * *
The opening half, which ended with the Cards up 38-36, was beauteous to watch.
The teams were back and forth, didn’t commit many turnovers, each hitting just a smidge under 60% from the field. The Cards gave up too many open treys — a significant problem early in this campaign, one that reared its ugly head again yesterday — but had their inside/ out O working well. Nanu had 5 assists at intermission.
U of L came out strong in the second, forging ahead 46-38.
But then, Angel Rodgriguez, challenged by his coach, took over the game. The Canes tallied 9 consecutive to grab the lead, 47-46.
Louisville countered with a 7-0 run of its own, after Nanu, Jaylen Johnson and Donovan Mitchell were reinserted into the lineup, taking a 56-51 lead. And still lead by 4, 62-58, with 5:12 to go.
From then on, with U of L unable to hit, it was all Miami. The victors shutdown Louisville, scoring a dozen in a row, 15-3 the rest of the way.
* * * * *
The L stings a bit more than it would under normal circumstances.
There will be no chance for redemption in the ACC tourney and beyond.
So be it.
So, a little perspective is in order, with only two games left in the season, one the Cards should win over Georgia Tech on a bittersweet Senior Night, and the finale in Charlottesville, in an almost impossible task against UVa on its Senior Day.
The reality is, as much as this U of L edition has overachieved, it hasn’t been able to beat a quality foe on the road. The Cards couldn’t close even once in East Lansing, or Lexington, or Durham, or South Bend, or Miami. Or, at Clemson, for that matter.
Not a plaint. For these are Ws this gang should secure next season and beyond. Just a fact.
Which is to say that, while it is sad and a shame that Louisville won’t be dancing, it would have taken some extraordinary improvement to garner a spot in the Final Four. Or, the Elite Eight for that matter.
U of L, were it competing in the Dance, would have been among those 20 or so alleged contendas, but the others that are legit, one or more of whom U of L would face from the second round on, all have considerably more experience than the Cardinals.
* * * * *
U of L was simply bested by a better team yesterday.
So, there’s no reason to play coulda woulda shoulda.
That said, I do wonder why Donovan Mitchell didn’t see more than 12 minutes of action. At +8, he was the only Cardinal on the positive side of the +/- stat line.
So be it. Next season, he’ll be on the court at crunch time. Next season, Deng Adel will have worked on his ball handling, and won’t lose it when driving the middle. Next season, Ray Spalding will play with more Eye of the Tiger. Next season, Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud will be back. Hopefully, Onuaku too.
This foreshortened campaign is but a week from conclusion.
But, the future, as Yogi might say, is all ahead of us.
— Seedy K