There is the only appropriate place to start when considering U of L’s counterpunching, oh so necessary, oh so much fun 73-70 victory over arch rival Kentucky.
Need I spell out his full name, so that you won’t misunderstand of whom I’m speaking?
Not really. But I shall.
He’s the homie from Ballard High, a kid who might not know many details if any at all from the ’59 Cards over Cats encounter in the NCAA, a youngster who wouldn’t be born for years after the Dream Game in Stokely, but a local, someone who grew up with the rivalry, someone who carries the resonance of this annual Feathers vs. Fur battle in his DNA.
The Louisville PG understood his Cards needed this Battle of the Bluegrass W on the hardwood, as much as that Blue School down the road needed the one it fashioned on the gridiron.
So Q grabbed the intense midweek slugfest by the short and curlies and made it his own. On a night when the media seats were filled with pro scouts coming to see ballers who can’t be recognized by a single letter, it was Q who made sure his team prevailed.
UK started the game in a fashion that had those watching wonder if it was the fastest collegiate ensemble they’d ever seen? Louisville would score, and in a blink of the eye the Wildcats would counter.
With a three that pulled the Cards even at 12, Q underscored to the Cats that U of L, underdogs yet again by tipoff time, were not to be deterred. Or denied.
In a roller coaster affair, he did it again just before the first half buzzer. The Cardinals had surged from 14-20 down to a 29-22 lead. A 15-2 run. Then surrendered nine in a row to fall behind by a deuce, 29-31. Kentucky broke the scrum that had the game knotted at 35, to push ahead by 5 with 1:20 to play before ESPN shared the court with Lamar and the Heisman at halftime.
Again it was Q who reeled the Cats closer at the break. He stroked a J, then drove it to the bucket. Which key four points pulled the Cards within a wafer thin point at intermission.
And it was his trey that pushed the Cards ahead 47-43 before the first stoppage of the second half.
At the end when things were getting seriously nerve-racking, when UK’s clay feet began to show at the FT line, it was Q who netted a deuce at 2:47 to increase the Cardinals’ margin to five.
Then the Exclamation Point.
So impassive is Quentin Snider’s on court persona, it’s impossible to know if the move was done on purpose, or simply instinctual? With the lead cut by a digit, Q, checked by Bam Adebayo after a switch at the top of the key, got in touch with his inner De’Aaron Fox, stealing the stellar Wildcat PG’s signature move. Q’s Go/ Stop/ Go hesitation slash to the hoop gave U of L a six point “cushion” at 69-63.
(At which point, your inveterate chronicler — c’est moi –was so nervous he could hardly jot down his game notes, and the ones he could scrawl were indecipherable, so he simply put down the pen and savored the finish.)
The Cards closed.
And, as the they did when Tommy hit the stage, or so it is sung, the crowd went crazy.
* * * * *
Do not be misled by my focus on Quentin Snider, with his game high 22 points, 6 boards and 5 assists.
This was a team victory. He was far from the only Cardinal who soared in the biggest game of the season so far.
Rick Pitino, as is his wont with time to prepare, strategized a marvelous game plan.
The Cards, who previously this campaign have wavered on any number of occasions at the offensive end, never went stagnant with the ball. There was movement and flow from the get go that never abated.
Louisville’s top ranked defense held UK’s heralded O to 39% shooting, a full ten percentage points under the visitor’s season average. The Cardinals shushed Flavor of the Week Malik Monk, harassing him so that he doinked 8 of his 9 attempts from beyond the arc.
As is usually the case in a hard fought rivalry game like this, there were too many key moments to mention them all. (My apologies for those I fail to acknowledge.)
There was Anas Mahmoud’s brilliant possession save on a ball headed out of bounds, which he got to Deng Adel , who immediately fired it to Jaylen Johnson (14 points, 6 rebounds) under the hoop for a slam and a 65-61 lead. Which is not to mention JJ’s big follow for a 71-67 lead, or that lovely reverse post-up layin when double teamed, giving U of L a lead early after the break.
While the Cats were choking at the FT line with the game in the balance, Louisville was a solid 75%. Ray Spalding — who was huge in the opening half — was 4/4. The Cards’ best marksman at the line Deng Adel (18 points, 6 boards), who played his most solid game yet in the red & black, was 6/6. Donovan Mitchell (13 points, 4 caroms), who was big game intense for every one of this 28 minutes on the court, was 5/7 and nailed the coffin shut, draining a couple charity tosses with :08 on the clock.
Mangok Mathiang didn’t tally, taking only two shots, but was solid and steady underneath, and grabbed 5 rebounds.
* * * * *
This Cardinal squad, without any discernable personality or identity despite its 10-1 record coming in, showed its mettle early on.
When Kentucky came out supercharged, scoring quickly on any number of possessions, Louisville never wobbled. Staying the course is an admirable character trait.
This bunch of U of L Cardinals displayed just how stalwart they are last night under the Kleig Lights of Top Ten, Big Rivalry, ESPN in the House competition.
And, ya know, here’s the bottom line: There’s nothing short of a national title like beating the Cats.
— Seedy K