On Saturday Night the Cards went into a hostile environment and beat a Top 30 RPI opponent.  Connecticut was well-beaten at home and got very little production outside of their backcourt.  That was perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Louisville’s win over the Huskies of UCONN’s 64 points, just 10 were scored by Frontcourt players.  Without Chane Behanan the Cards had to rely on 39 minutes from Montrezl Harrell and played just 8 players.  Without Chris Jones, Terry Rozier got 33 minutes and while we did go 1-7 from the floor just one turnover is really exceptional for the freshman guard.

As it stands, there is nothing wrong with regular season losses to North Carolina, Kentucky, and Memphis individually.  It was collectively NOT having a quality win that was the biggest issue.  Louisville will have another crack at Memphis in 6 weeks on the road, and will also host Connecticut in the season finale as well as a home & away series with Cincinnati.  There are plenty of opportunities for the Cards to improve their NCAA Tournament résumé and right now at 16-3 the Cards are starting to finally look the part.

Before the SMU game, I really had no direction on how to describe the identity of this team.  Maybe the Cards didn’t know themselves.  But I do think adversity brought this team together. The challenge of North Carolina, Kentucky, & Memphis wasn’t enough to bring the message home of “Louisville First”.  But when a Chane Behanan is dismissed from an inexperienced front court, Kevin Ware can’t come back from his injury last season, and Chris Jones deals with an injury himself….this team had to rally together or face the real possibility of crumbling to pieces.

Russ Smith has seen the turning points. Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame Coach.  Terry Rozier is wise beyond his years, Luke Hancock has found his game, and Wayne Blackshear off the bench has kept the foul bug away allowing Blackshear to find his rhythm. There probably isn’t a better player to challenge 35+ minutes per game at the Power Forward spot than Montrezl Harrell, and the combo of Stephan Van Treese & Mangok Mathiang is actually a good contrast in style but focused on defense & intangibles.

When Chris Jones returns, the Louisville backcourt will get deeper & Terry Rozier will have less responsibility.  But UofL is better now.  They are playing with calm & purpose. Jones’ return will allow for more energy & aggression but Coach Pitino now knows who can come in and calm things down.  Also Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear together have a growing confidence that really stems from this 3-game stretch.  I don’t know where Louisville Basketball is going in 2014 but I am starting to see the face of the program once again….and that’s a good thing.

Russ Smith Honored as American Player of the Week

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — University of Louisville senior guard Russ Smith has been named the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball player of the Week.

Smith averaged a combined 20.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, three assists and made 5-of-7 three-point goals in a pair of victories last week.  He had 18 points, four assists and three steals in just 24 minutes in Louisville’s 91-52 victory over Houston in the KFC Yum! Center on Jan. 16.  Smith scored 23 points, sinking 12-of-15 free throws, and grabbed four rebounds as the Cardinals won 76-64 at Connecticut with an ESPN College GameDay audience.

In league games, Smith leads The American in scoring (21.5), steals (2.7) and three-point field goal percentage (.607).  Smith has been recognized on the league weekly honor roll for the past five consecutive weeks on on eight occasions this season.

Smith has helped Louisville (16-3, 5-1 AAC) match its second-best start through 19 games in Coach Rick Pitino’s 13 years guiding the Cardinals.  Louisville will face USF in Tampa, Fla. on Wednesday in its next outing (Jan. 22, 7 p.m., ESPNU).

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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