Post Season Rule #2: You only play who(m) you play.
So, there’s a rubber match against The Orange in a game meaningful only when it comes to bragging rights. And seeding, perhaps. If a win secures a #1 seed, or a loss a place on the second line, it is of no matter. This NCAA tournament is going to be wacky wherever you play and who(m)ever you play.
(I say that, of course, hoping against hope that U of L is placed in either the Indianapolis or Arlington regional bracket, and I could care less about the seeding. Because, well, because I’m sitting on front row tickets to Leonard Cohen at the Palace on the evening of Saturday, March 30, and I would just as soon not have to contemplate a conflict. Which worry obviously breaches my adherence to Rule #2, since the only team on the Cards’ schedule at the moment is Syracuse.)
Ah, what March Madness does for the sale of Tums for the tummy.
Oh yes, Rule #1: Survive and advance.
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Which is exactly what U of L did last night in a taking-care-of-business dismissal of the Notre Dame Fighting Limeaids. For the third consecutive year in the BE semis.
It is a sign of this Cardinal team’s maturity that it was never behind in the game.
It is a sign of this Cardinal team’s offensive lack of temerity that the W didn’t feel safe until the game was about two and a half minutes from completion.
Even after that, the Slime Greens knocked in a couple of improbable familiar-looking triples that caused some momentary but fortunately fleeting acid flashbacks of that 5 OT L in South Bend.
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Before the beginning of the second stanza, I wrote a note: “Will Louisville turn it up on defense?”
While the Cards played their usual stalwart D in the first half, there was less havoc-style trapping and backcourt pressure.
A few moments after play resumed, when the decision still seemed in doubt, I asked myself, “Why not more pressure and trapping?”
The answers? Well, The Rick, for all the shit I give him in this space, knows a lot more about basketball than I do. And he obviously discerned that Mike Brey’s outfit was more fundamentally sound than Jay Wright’s had been the night before, and he chose to pressure in a different manner.
It worked. Duh.
In their postgame comments, the Irish mentioned how relentless U of L’s defense was, and how they couldn’t run their offensive sets.
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One thing I know I’ve gotten right, and mentioned several times this year, Louisville is at its best, and will only make a deep tourney run, if Peyton Siva is on the court.
He still makes some really sophomoric decisions. Yet he most always rises to the occasion. Which is what leaders do, and Siva is nothing if not the leader of this team.
12 points. 6 assists. 3 rebounds. 7 steals. Only 2 turnovers.
One thing I know I’ve gotten right, and mentioned several times this year — I apologize for patting myself on the back twice in this section — Louisville will only make a deep tourney run, if, when the offensive turns moribund (as is its wont), Russ Smith turns into RUSS SMITH. Okay, I’ll say it, though I’ve taken to loathe the term, when he turns Russdiculous.
Like the sequence about five minutes into the second half, when Smith returned to the court after ND had cut the Cards lead to three, 34-31. He immediately canned a jumper. Then assisted Dieng, who put it in the cup. A few minutes later, the lead was again down to three, but Smith found Luke in the corner for a trey. Then he snared a board, missed one of his ill-advised layup attempts, then made one.
The kid is irrepressible. (One more shout out for my favorite photo of the year. Russ and Peyton with their arms around a smiling, bemused Bill Clinton . . . with their tongues out.)
Smith tallied 20. On 8/14 shooting. Dished out 6 assists.
Bilas and Raftery were effusive in their praise.
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That leadership notwithstanding, it was a team effort.
Blackshear got the Cards going with 5 early.
Behanan tallied all 7 of his points in the 2d half, including 3/4 at the line.
Gorgui Dieng, against that substanial puke green height and girth in the middle, had another ho hum 8 and 12 game.
Our new favorite player, Luke Hancock, added 11. He was 3/3 from downtown.
The Cards were a steady 12/17 at the line. I love that they hit their last 7 in the final minute, including 3 of 4 by Behanan.
* * * * *
Though Notre Dame was obviously tired, it was still able to dictate the tenor of the game.
It’s a testament to Louisville that it adjusted and prevailed.
Next: A road game against Syracuse. For a title. And a final tournament tuneup.
– Seedy K