The evening was set.
Louisville fans flooded the KFC Yum Center with an emotion unmatched all season- an electrifying energy – all adorned with apparel from yesteryear on this ‘Throwback Thursday’ evening set forth by Louisville officials.
Fans longed for a return to a much easier place. Like 2013 where Louisville were National Champs and everything was beautiful. Instead they left with unrest as Louisville failed to grab another elusive Top 25 win and summoned defeat to Cincinnati to the tune of 69-66.
“We made really a couple of blunders down the stretch,” Rick Pitino said with a fiery emotion postgame.
Another night. Another Top 25 team . Another late game blunder. On a night that history was marketed, it seemed to repeat itself. Another instance where Louisville looked clueless down the stretch. One where they went on a Arizona summer’s worth scoring drought, not getting a field goal for the final five minutes and one second of play.
“It’s different situations,” Freshman PG Terry Rozier, who finished the game with a 0 in the turnover line, noted. “Anything can happen. The ball can bounce their way anytime. It just wasn’t our night.”
Do it once? It’s a mistake. Do it twice? It’s bound to become habit.
“Maybe it’s late game execution,” Russ Smith said when asked what the common thread of losses were.
Maybe so. Maybe not.
In two Conference losses, two that now have the Cardinals looking above at undefeated Cincinnati, Louisville has combined for one field goal in the final five minutes of play. These are losing habits…or maybe not. There is more to the story. In the midst of the a three game losing stretch, the 2013 Louisville Basketball team – National Champions, mind you – Louisville had two losses to ranked opponents Georgetown and Syracuse by a two points each. In those games? Louisville combined for one FG in the final five minutes – a layup.
Miracles do occur. Teams do fix problems.
However, that’s about where the good news stops.
Here’s what we do know. Around the 13 minute mark of the second half, Louisville was searching for any type of spark. All the bad things were happening. Cincinnati was locking the Cardinals down defensively. Russ Smith was taking ill-advised shots. Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick was shredding the Louisville zone like Swiss cheese.
Louisville needed a spark, any type of spark. They got it when Cincinnati player Titus Rubles was charged for a technical foul. The Cardinals then proceeded to go on a 9-0 run quicker than you can say Cardinal – 48 seconds to be exact. After trading baskets for a bit, Louisville would get their first lead since 2-0 after Russ Smith made a three that was every bit as Russdiculous as Rick Pitino stares that found his way through the night were cold. Montrezl Harrell? He had a pretty behemoth second half onslaught, too. Highlighted by two back-to-back crafty hook shoots that helped him lead the Cardinals in scoring for a total of 18 points.
“I felt we really started getting after it,” a somber Harrell noted post game. “We started getting really fired up and we starting playing some great defense. I just kept attacking the rim and taking what they were giving me. They left me down there a lot on one-on-one moves and I just kept attacking.”
Louisville had the Bearcats where they wanted them – on the verge of crumbling. The crowd had was as rabid as a pack of hungry wolves and Louisville was desperate. Desperate for a win that would provide much more clarity about the team they are – the team they want to be known as. A team that leaves little doubt about their supremacy, but instead we were left with questions. That’s troubling.
What’s even more troubling? Louisville’s resume. It’s hardly one that would warrant an easy path to a return to the NCAA Championship. It’s mired with wins that are ho-hum and virtually none that make you take a double take. Zero wins over a Top 25 team (I know you’ve heard it but it bares repeating). 4 wins of RPI top 100 teams, with most of those at the tail end of the 100 marking.
Louisville now has little room to grab more wins that would improve their seeding. As it stands now, Louisville’s next chance for a Top 25 win will come when they travel to Memphis in early February. They’ll get only one more opportunity after that when they travel to Cincinnati for their final game of the regular season. Two road games that will likely feature a more than enthused crowd. Ouch. Moreso, if Louisville is able to flip the proverbial ‘light switch’ we may not know it until sometime in March, given the lack of challenges they will be given.
As for now, Louisville is left with would’ve, could’ve, should’ve after failing to a capture their moment. Again. According to Freshmann PG Terry Rozier, they are also left with a restless Head Coach.
“He just told us he’s not going through it again – the little mistakes,” said Rozier
And Rick Pitino shouldn’t have to anymore. Not with this team. Not with a game plan that has appeared to be sufficient enough for a win in all by one of the Cardinals losses. Louisville’s season can only two ways now, it’s clearly left on the players to decide which road it will travel.
Photo Credit to Sportingnews.com
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