Both teams played really good basketball….fun basketball, great passing. They were the better team in the 2nd half and you have to give them all the credit……but they were the better team. Too often people can’t give credit to the other team. We played well they were just better this night. – Rick Pitino after losing to Miami (2-27-2016)
Louisville Basketball traveled to the Bank United Center in Miami on Saturday for a #11 vs. #12 tilt that would decide sole possession of 2nd place in the ACC.
The Hurricanes started off RED HOT from behind the arc to start the game but despite that the 1st half was a back & forth affair with both teams shooting a high percentage at halftime. The Cards went to half with a 2 point lead, very little foul trouble and had to feel good about the result after how well UM shot the ball. Additionally, Louisville had 11 assists on 15 made baskets…….that would change in the 2nd half.
In the second half the Cards had just 2 assists mostly because Miami forced Louisville to operate from the perimeter and denied any touches to Chinanu Onuaku. Onuaku played 35 minutes, turned an ankle and struggled to make himself available in the offense with the added Cane emphasis. Miami front Chinanu with its power forward Ivan Cruz Uceda and rotated Tonye Jekiri over whenever Nanu did get the ball.
Rick Pitino said, “We went inside in the 1st half and put on an offensive clinic with Nanu passing getting 6 assists, we didn’t go to him as much in the 2nd half. He got a little tired, got hurt there a little bit. That was a big key for us going inside and cutting off of him.”
Depth was a huge factor in this regard with Nanu unable to get a long stretch on the bench, Pitino clearly didn’t trust Matz Stockman to go a long way vs. Miami, “If we have Anas and Mangok I could care less about foul trouble. Matz is learning. We’d be pretty difficult to beat if we had Mangok & Anas. But we don’t. And injuries are part of the game. Next year won’t be a problem, we’ll have many many substitutes up front.”
UofL down the stretch had a tough time staying in front of Miami Point Guard Angel Rodriguez and the rest of the Canes. Miami was able to get to the rim and to the free throw line regularly and finished 19-23 from the foul line. Also the Cards went cold hitting just one field goal (a 3 from Quentin Snider) in the game’s final 5 minutes.
Miami was better than Louisville on Saturday in their home arena. But the loss didn’t get Rick Pitino down. Instead Coach Pitino was both retrospectively thinking of this team’s place in his coaching career and also forward to this team’s future for next year:
“This is the most over-achieving team I’ve coached in my life since Providence in ’87. Mentally they’ve just been let down like a balloon burst. And you would think right now that we’re playing for a #1 seed…….we’re playing so hard. This is probably the team I’ll always appreciate the most. Now we won’t hang any banners or we won’t have any Final Fours. Personally after coaching 41 years I’ll look back and appreciate this team so much. They won’t get down, we have 2 more games. They’ll play just like they did tonight, they may get beat but they’ll play just like they did tonight.”
Pitino went on to add: “These 3 freshman are special. It’s one of the most special classes I’ve had. Combine attitude and ability, they’ve got it……they’ve got a wonderful wonderful future. The future is so bright for all of them.”
There are two games remaining for Louisville this season. The ACC Regular Season is a long-shot but not impossible. But there will be no ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament. This team isn’t perfect and despite Saturday’s result they’ve shown enough fight and attitude to make its fanbase proud of the group on the court and excited about the future.
That’s a tough feat in one of the most frustrating seasons of off the court news in Louisville Athletics in a long time.
*The Cards will play their final home game on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. vs. Georgia Tech. The Game is A RED OUT to honor the seniors Damion Lee & Trey Lewis. Also included in the ceremony will be the Cardinals’ Dillon Avare a walk-on who will become a graduate transfer at Eastern Kentucky for the next two years and has won a scholarship with the Colonels. *