Louisville had a 13-point lead with 8:43 to play. Usually a recipe for success. Chris Jones had an outstanding game, Terry Rozier hit a clutch jumper to re-take the lead after North Carolina stormed back, and then Marcus Paige who was most neutralized by the Cardinal backcourt hit an acrobatic shot to make the game’s final shot.
An open look by Wayne Blackshear went off the iron and a Terry Rozier last second put back was close but no cigar. North Carolina wins. Louisville loses. Cardinal fans watching on television were left with a Dick Vitale tribute to the late Stuart Scott (a UNC grad, who passed away from cancer a week ago) with multiple “Booyeahs”. Over and over. Booyeah, Booyeah, Booyeah, Booyeah, Booyeah, Booyeah, Booyeah, Booyeah.
Rick Pitino, now 0-6 in his career against the Tar Heels said in his post-game comments to Bob Valvano on the loss, “It stings. It is as bad of a loss as I’ve had. Goes into my Top 10.”
But it’s January. The 2013 Championship team fell in 3 consecutive games in January. The 2012 Final Four team lost 5 of 7 from late December into January.
No one wants to lose, but the truth of the matter is that these Cardinals have been composed of 4 players: Chris Jones, who has really played fantastic in his last 3 games. Terry Rozier, who has increasingly been playing more assertive and moving into a leadership role. Montrezl Harrell, who has been nursing a hand injury which may be a symptom of his less aggressive style lately. And Wayne Blackshear, who may or may not have a big game offensively but always plays good defense.
The Cardinal bench provided 0 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers in 30 minutes on Saturday. That’s not enough. But Cardinal fans can get excited about Rick Pitino’s message getting through to Chinanu Onuaku who was a big deal versus North Carolina. Nanu was able to stay on the floor for 27 minutes posting 8 points and 8 rebounds.
If the message can get through to Nanu, the message can get through to the rest of Louisville’s young players. Like Nanu, Quentin Snider, Anas Mahmoud, and Shaqquan Aaron have only lost 2 games in their collegiate history: vs. Kentucky and at North Carolina. Those two games have been lost by a total of 9 points….so the sky isn’t falling.
The truth is that Louisville played one of its best games of the season versus North Carolina and its offense collapsed in the final 7 minutes when no other Cardinal but Terry Rozier scored……just 6 points in the final 7 minutes is a problem. The fact that it came from just one person is worse.
On the road, with no bench Louisville lost by 1 point to one of the most storied programs in college basketball. It’s not the desired outcome, but the sky isn’t falling either. January is for learning and Pitino has plenty of positives and learning material for his team.
Louisville will face Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech Hokies Tuesday night at the KFC Yum! Center at 7:00.