Louisville Card File: UConn

I have for decades been of the opinion that the best defensive game U of L ever played was its 46-50 L to Georgetown in the ’82 national semi-final. Actually both teams played stifling D that afternoon. The score was exactly the same each half, 25 for the Hoyas, 23 for the Cards.

Neither was able to run an offensive set as it desired. It was a stunning display of fortification by both squads.

U of L’s effort in the second half last night in Hartford was the equal of that performance in the Superdome 31 years ago.

The Cardinals literally broke the Huskies’ will. The UConn players were decimated, their expressions hangdog. The Cards forced the home team into 26% shooting (7/27), including 3/13 long balls. They forced 10 turnovers.

UConn was totally befuddled. Shabazz Napier was 0/6 from the field and looked ready to cry.

The Huskies, coming off a W in South Bend, stood 12-3 before the game, their only losses to Top 25 squads.

It was, all things considered, a stunning display of fortitude by the Cardinals. Travel woes meant the team didn’t arrive in Hartford until 5 hours before tipoff. Several players were nursing vexing injuries. Silent L was so sick he was hurling in the locker room. The jinx that often befalls schools newly arrived at #1, especially facing a big conference tilt on the road, was ever present.

And Peyton Siva, though he played spectacularly after the break, yet again put the Cardinals in peril with his fouling carelessness. He perpetrated two ridiculous fouls before four minutes had run off the clock.

* * * * *

I shall not repeat verbatim the observation of Bobby Knight viz a viz Siva’s propensity to reach in and garner cheap, stupid fouls.

In essence, Knight said it’s going to cost U of L in an important game down the road. Fortunately it did not last night, but . . .

Here’s why I keep bringing it up. This U of L squad is on the cusp of greatness. The difference between having a coulda woulda shoulda season and cutting down the nets in Atlanta will be in the details.

One of those is this reality. Siva needs to be available to be on the court at every moment of every game. The Cards are a different squad offensively and defensively when he’s on the hardwood. Without him, there is stagnation and the Russ Smith Show. Against the really good teams come tournament time, that will not be enough.

With Siva playing without shackles, this team can be wicked good.

* * * * *

Russ Smith broke out of his “slump” during the first half.

His offensive performance was scintillating. He sliced and diced the Huskie’s D like a Veg-O-Matic. 7/13 from the field. Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery were beside themselves. In the studio, Jason Williams held up a hand drawn sign that read, “Russ Smith POY.”

But, as much as he handled the ball for the final 16 minutes of the stanza, he had no assists. As in zero. Zilch. None. (Louisville as a team only had 3 in the half.)

Which is why Peyton Siva must be on the court.

The only other noteworthy numbers before the break were Wayne Blackshear’s 7 points, and Gorgui Dieng’s 10 rebounds.

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In the second half, besides that championship quality D, the Cards turned into the Chane Gang. Behanan scored 14 points — it shoulda been more, he missed two dunks — and snared 7 rebounds.

Gorgui Dieng grabbed 6 more boards, giving him 16 for the tilt.

Siva scored 9 points, had four assists, three rebounds and three steals. He kickstarted the Cards’ 2d half comeback with a deuce on a drive, then a steal and assist to his runnin’ partner. He was the paradigm of point guard, giving rise rise to this query, “Trey who?”

Louisville hit 60+% from the field in the second half. That’s a number reminiscent of the halcyon days (’75-’86).

* * * * *

Louisville stole the ball ten times in the game.

And had 114 deflections. (Not by actual count, but I’ll swear it to be true.)

The Cardinals played 99% zone, the first time this season I recall that such has been the case.

* * * * *

Rick Pitino coached a great game.

Thought it is interesting he played offense/ defense down the stretch. Kevin Ware and Wayne Blackshear were his D guys. Luke Hancock — still obviously coach’s pet — and Russ Smith on O.

* * * * *

What’s so startling about this W is that the margin really should have been more.

After the Cards spurted to a 46-41 advantage with 14:30 to play, they scored but a single Behanan FT on its next five possessions. Missed jumper, turnover, turnover, 1 of 2 FTs, then an empty possession when the Cards grabbed three offensive rebounds but failed to score.

Yet . . . on a night that had “trap game” written all over it . . . Louisville beat a good 12-3 team on the road.

By 15 points.

As my ever pessimistic pal David texted me with a couple of minutes left in the game, “We are very very very very . . . . . good.”

With an opportunity to get much much much much . . . . . . . better.

– Seedy K

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