Throw Down game.
(Donovan Mitchell wins the Dunking Cardinal Look Alike award for his leaping, one-handed exclamation point that put the Cardinals up 86-63.)
And down the stretch they come.
In the last tilt before the final week of the regular season, U of L dispatched Jim Boeheim’s short and under-manned Syracuse Orange, 88-68.
When these teams battled in OT game in the Carrier Dome, the Cards were stalwart early on D, holding the Orange scoreless on their first five possessions. Sunday afternoon, the Cards — with a new starting five which included V.J. King, Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding — were moving their feet, communicating and similarly stingy.
They forced a shot clock violation on the visitors’ first possession and turnovers on two others. ‘Cuse’s only tallies were a couple FTs. They even had to call a timeout two and a half minutes in.
In that last OT victory — Syracuse’s only home league loss this season — U of L scored 4 in its first handful of opportunities. This second time around, Louisville didn’t waste any early opportunities.
Donovan Mitchell trey. Anas Mahmoud follow. Ray Spalding oop slam on a pass from Quentin Snider. Q then netted a deuce, followed by another Spalding score.
Crisp and effective at both ends, Louisville was as sharp as they’ve been all season.
Then they got wobbly, giving up the advantage and falling behind at 13-14. Syracuse held the lead for 2:10, when the Cards grabbed the game for good on a Q threeball for an 18-17 lead with 8:57 to go before intermission.
Aided by an 18-4 run, their lead steadily increased, and stood at 16 at the break, 41-25.
The Orange kept pushing and the Cards lost some focus in the second. But never led by less than 11 after the break.
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So, with only dangerous Wake Forest and nemesis Notre Dame to face between now and Brooklyn and Selection Sunday, what did we learn from Sunday’s fun win?
One: Ray Spalding has a pulse. Seemingly in a daze in recent weeks, the Trinity grad appeared to be falling precipitously into the wait till next year category.
No More. Spalding was both my and Paul Rogers’ POG. For Sunday afternoon at least, performance matched potential. 11 rebounds, four off the offensive glass. 18 points on 8/9 shooting. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a double double.
His 2/6 woes at the charity stripe and triad of turnovers were more than offset by his energy, his focus, 2 assists, a block and 2 steals.
It was his most fierce outing in a Cardinal uni, throwback or any other.
Two. Free throw shooting could and is likely to be Louisville’s Achilles heel in the Dance. Following a Biddy Basketball effort at the charity stripe in Chapel Hill, the Cards were a somewhat improved, but significantly less than acceptable 13/23.
Three. Deng Adel remains a liability dribbling the ball, but . . .
. . . we did learn that he is steadier when forging straight ahead than he is when he’s trying to turn a corner. He had, what, three end to end tallies when the Cards pushed way ahead for good in the second half. (Even though, against press row rules, regs and etiquette, I was yelling, “Get rid of the ball,” every time he took off with the ball.)
His hands are made of rock. But he appears a bit more in control when heading in a straight line. At least he was Sunday afternoon. He reasserted himself as the squad’s best FT shooter, draining 7/9. (Everybody else was 6/14.)
Four. The Rick still hasn’t any confidence in V.J. King. And remains disinclined to give the heralded freshman enough PT to overcome his defensive lapses. King started, but played 12 minutes only and never found a rhythm.
Five. U of L’s 38-22 advantage in paint points belies the reality that Louisville gets beaten way too much off the dribble. If U of L runs into Melo Trimble or Frank Mason or Lonzo Ball in the tourney, they might lose 1 on 5.
Six. Al Greener and the Cardinal Pride Pep Band have been working on their game too. They came up with some new numbers Sunday. Was that “Saber Dance” they played during the opening half’s second media timeout?
Seven. Sphincters are tighter than ever for Cardinal fans who fear improving by the game Donovan Mitchell will jump to the pros after this, his sophomore season.
Another ho hum performance Sunday. 25 points. 5 rebounds. 4 assists. 2 steals. And that previously mentioned exclamation point flush with seconds left to play.
Mitchell does need to break himself of a habit that also plagued Peyton Siva until the last season of that PG’s career. Reaching in on D and thus committing stupid fouls.
Eight. Despite analytics that would indicate U of L is better on offense without Q in the lineup, it ain’t so.
Snider had 6 assists and NO turnovers in 34 minutes on the hardwood. Plus a dozen points.
Nine. Anas Mahmoud had 8 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals.
While I would never want somebody to not visit home and family, let’s hope AM decides not to vacation in his home country over the summer. He may never get back in the country.
Ten. Allow me to repeat what I have said previously and had to do twice this week when chatting with fellow Cardinal fans, who asked me about Matz Stockman.
“Matz Stockman will never be a factor for University of Louisville basketball.”
Eleven. U of L always plays better when they pass the ball. Like Sunday. Duh. (Loved the high/low Spalding to Mahmoud feed to push the lead to 29-21.)
Twelve. U of L always defends better when the guys talk to each other on D. Double Duh. (Loved the Adel/Mitchell trap on the press at 36-21, forcing a ‘Cuse backcourt travel.)
Thirteen. Denny Crum always gets a standing O when introduced. Even from youngsters who probably don’t have a clue that the octogenarian who led U of L to its first two national titles was the best bench coach ever in the history of the college game.
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Next up: Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, where the Demon Deacons just came back from 19 down to beat resurgent Pittsburgh.
— Seedy K