It was there for the taking.
Maybe the refs had made questionable calls. Pitino wouldn’t shy away from letting his feelings known on officiating when he stated after the game, ‘I think the crowd affected the refs more than my players’.
Wayne Blackshear had been tied to the Louisville bench after picking up two fouls in two minutes. Louisville was hammered on the boards and had fumbled away an 8-2 opening lead and trailed Kentucky by 6 at halftime. But yet still they had a chance. The Cards had the ultimate chance to claim victory over their bitter rival.
“We had it,” Freshman G Terry Rozier, who finished with 5 points and nothing else, explained. “We led by 1 but they just stuck together. They played tough. They played Kentucky Basketball. I tip my cap to them.”
At the 13:52 mark of the second half Julius Randle, Kentucky’s best player and perhaps the best Freshmen in the Country locked up with cramps. His absence provided a big opportunity, and while Randle would attempt to return but the pain would be too much to allow it. Kentucky’s phenomenal Freshmen would be summoned to the bench after putting together a performance that Louisville had little answer to — 17 points and one missed shot.
Things appeared bleak for Kentucky for multiple reasons. Louisville was starting to click on defense, they we’re in the midst of a 7-0 run, held a one point lead and now the Kentucky’s best player wouldn’t see the floor again. At least from my point of view, this looked like the point where Louisville would exploit Kentucky. The lanes would open and surely the trio of Montrezl Harrell, Chane Behanan, and Mangok Mathiang would be able to mustard enough offense to put Kentucky away. I suppose, I must be foolish. Then it all fell a part. Louisville had their golden opportunity in front of their faces and failed to capitalize. Kentucky used poise and scoring from James Young – who finished the game with 18 points – to defeat Louisville, 73-66
“We did some decent things but we are making way to many technical defensive mistakes. I mean we are down four, we have a shot at it, and we lose a man coming off a curl, which is a simple play to defend,” Head Coach Rick Pitino noted. “They may drive to the basket and get fouled, but leaving the guy wide open and not being with him on a simple curl is just not good defense.”
I’ll agree with Pitino. I was more shocked with this than actually anything else. Kentucky’s Young guards Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrisons were able to hand Louisville’s pressure well when so many teams have been able to do so. In fact, Kentucky finished the game with less turnovers than Louisville. But I was fine with that. I believed Louisville had done enough with the pressure defense to overcome that particular stat. My real problem came with the Cardinal frontcourt players.
Louisville knew they had mismatches in the front court. They had heard from everyone in the local and National media. Going into Saturday evening, it was almost a certainty that Louisville wouldn’t have the horses to compete with Kentucky in the frontcourt. Even so, none could have predicted Louisville to get taken to woodshed there like they did. Louisville was beaten, Louisville was bruised, Louisville was out-manned in the post from the first tip to the final horn.
“We need to pay attention to the scouting report more. Everybody from the one through the five has to move their feet and guard. It hurt us a lot,” PF Montrezl Harrell said. “We got killed on the backboard, and that hurt us a lot. Coming into the game, (Kentucky) got 50 percent of their shots back and it’s like nobody paid attention to that. They got a majority of their shots back and that really killed us. Hustle plays really killed us tonight.”
In total, Louisville’s Frontcourt production looked like this: Mangok Mathiang 4 points and 3 rebounds, Chane Behanan 0 points and 7 rebounds, Montrezl Harrell 3 points and 6 rebounds and lastly Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear combining for 6 rebounds and 12 points. That’s not enough. You can’t expect too major contributors in Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell to combine for 3 points and win many games against stiff competition. You certainly can’t expect that when you allow the opponents 4 spot to combine for 20 points and 20 rebounds like James Young and Willie Cauley-Stein did on Saturday night.
Louisville will win plenty games with their elite guards who rely on quickness and crafty tricky to score on opponents. Russ Smith and Chris Jones certainly did that tonight and I’d expect that to continue. But Louisville won’t beat elite teams until to they can fix their chronic problems with big men. It starts with Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan. These players have shown in the past that they can overcome size disadvantages to be impact players. It’s time to do that once again or it’s time to temper expectations for Louisville Basketball. I expect the latter, but for now the verdict is still out.
“He just needs to pick up the technical aspects of his game. He has to rebound the basketball better, in both the North Carolina game and this game he didn’t grab a lot of rebounds,” Rick Pitino said of Harrell. “He has to get on the offensive glass better. You can’t rebound from backs, especially when you are playing against taller people. You have to maneuver and be quicker than the other players.”
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