First things first, Louisville needs to schedule at least two Friday night games at the Bucket every year. The crowd was every bit as amped (and intoxicated) as they were for the Connecticut showdown last February, and the resulting action made for probably the most intense overall atmosphere in the brief history of the arena. I have little doubt that the surrounding bars and restaurants would be on board with this plan.
I just love having so many Cards fans in one area for an extended period of time. Good things always happen, and good times are always had.
As far as the actual game is concerned, I think there are two major things to take away: 1) This was another great team win which is going to look much better in a few months than it does right now. Vanderbilt's going to get Ezeli back and they're going to end up being just fine. The preseason top ten rankings may have been a tad over-the-top, but the 'Dores will finish the regular season ranked in the top 20. 2) Louisville has got to find a way to score more points if it's serious about making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Defense AND offense win championships, and it's not going to be long before the Cards run into a team on a hot shooting night that forces them to score more than 80 points in order to win.
This team's lack of playmakers was painfully noticeable against a Vanderbilt team that plays great matchup defense. Peyton Siva was able to get into the lane at will, but other than that Russ Smith was the only guy beating his man off the dribble, and that's why Russ was on the floor with the game on the line.
This team as it stands right now could end up being very, very good, but for it to be great I still think it needs a pure scorer like Wayne Blackshear somewhere in the fold. Whether it's Blackshear getting healthy or another guy stepping their game up to a level none of us realized was possible, someone needs to assume that role for U of L to be considered a true national title contender.
The crowd was a major, major factor in this game. Vandy was forced to play its starting five for 90% of the night, and it was their young guys who made the bulk of mistakes with the game on the line at both the end of regulation and overtime. And then of course there's the fact that the Commodores missed ten of their 24 free-throw attempts. Credit the Betty White cutout.
I don't think you can say enough about the way Chane Behanan responded after missing what looked like an easy game-winner at the end of regulation. Obviously the steal/dunk was a major turning point, but the two free-throws he hit just before that were twice as impressive, I thought.
When he was fouled with us down 57-53 and still not in the double bonus, I could almost hear the ESPN announcer calling one of our games in late February: "Behanan looks at a December loss to Vanderbilt as a real turning point for him individually. In that game he missed a potential game-winning shot from close range and then then the front end of a one-and-one late in the overtime period. He called it something he'll never forget and has been using it as motivation to improve ever since." It's the generic talented freshman storyline, but Chane isn't a generic freshman. Instead, Behanan - the same guy who went 1-of-18 from the charity stripe during the Bahamas trip in August - buries both free-throws and then makes the game-tying play shortly after.
Also, the three with us down seven in regulation could not have been bigger...or more unexpected. Shades of T-Will from a "nnoooo....YYYESSSSS" perspective.
We haven't had a "come back, Chane" joke yet, but it...it's comin'.
Siva made the headline play, but what about Kyle Kuric getting the job done with the game on the line for the third time (if you count the Bellarmine exhibition) this season. I'd try to start a Klutch Kyle Kuric thing here if the resulting abbreviation weren't so unfortunate.
It took massive cahonas to even attempt that heavily contested three from the corner, let alone absolutely bury it. The mid-range jumper on the next possession was equally clutch. There were 33 seconds left in the game when Kuric pulled up for that shot, meaning if he misses Vandy gets to hold for one and the best we can hope for is a second overtime.
Nah, it ain't like that. See the King, stay the King. 'Aything stay who he is.
Just in case you hadn't already seen this, from after Siva's game-winner:
If I were to die today, I'd like it known now that I want this to be my obituary picture. I don't care if it's grainy. I don't photograph well anyway.
If Charlie were to leave (and he's not going to this year), I would cancel Christmas. If he were to leave after the bowl game, I'd cancel next Christmas.
I'm joking (am I?), but in all seriousness I'd be so annoying to be around that I'd make people wish Christmas was canceled. No presents, no shaving, non-stop drinking, constant crying and "Nick Drake Presents: A Suicidal Holiday In Central Ohio" on repeat; this is what "Christmas" would become in the world of the Rutherfords.
Don't you put that evil on my family, Charlie.
Chris Smith spoke on Thursday about welcoming the challenge John Jenkins presented, but it's safe to say the senior All-American got the better of him on this night.
Jenkins finished with 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting, and really almost single-handedly willed the Commodores to the upset. Smith, meanwhile, had just one assist, one rebound and five points.
You always get a little wary when you hear guys talk publicly about something like NBA scouts being in attendance, which Smith also did on Thursday. I don't think Chris played selfishly (he only had one turnover and really only took one bad shot), but he may not have been quite as focused as he ordinarily is. It's easy to single out the one assist since he's been such a stellar passer early on this season, but the one rebound is the most discouraging thing to me. CS5 has been the best rebounding guard at U of L since he got here, and we need him to keep making those types of contributions in order to be successful.
Russ Smith made just 1-of-7 shots and still played a major role in a big win over a top 25 opponent. Imagine reading that sentence 10-12 months ago.
Smith finished the night with four assists and...wait for it.....wait for it...zero turnovers. Also, the one shot he made was enormous, a tough bank shot after a nice spin move in the lane with the Cards down six in overtime and in desperate need of some offense.
There were several notable extra-curricular events that took place Friday evening (Friday night games are awesome).
First, I had privilege of enjoying my first suite experience, which was beyond delightful. Major thanks to Nick Jacoby and Joey Wagner for providing the space and extending the invitation. This is as close as I can get to paying you back since I don't have nice things. I do make a pretty mean pie. So, yeah, pie on me Wednesday night before or after the IUPUI game. Also, a big what's up to my new favorite post-Kyle Kuric alley-oop high-fiving friends, Heath Hawkins and Fredo Aramburu, who both claimed I wouldn't mention them on here. You could not have been more f---ing wrong.
Second, my friend Dan hugged Peyton Siva Sr. after the game. I maintain that the hug was from all of us, while he's being a total dick and trying to keep it all to himself. That's way too much man for any individual to claim sole possession of a mutually agreed-upon hug. Basically, if you're reading this, you hugged Peyton Siva Sr. on Friday night.
The ovation he got when they showed him on the big screen after the game was a close second to Charlie's in terms of noise.
Lastly, we celebrated the win at Molly Malone's in St. Matthews, where the entire coaching staff and several former players (the Gianiny/Current social dream team is back) later showed up to join the fun. The crowd around both Pitinos was predictably deep (at least for a standard Louisville social establishment), but for whatever reason I only got excited when I saw Kevin Keatts stroll in the door several minutes after everyone else had arrived. A couple friends and I congratulated him on the win, and the combined look of uncertainty about the whole scene and shock that random fans knew who he was captured my heart. You're my guy, Keatts. Pie on me, Wednesday.
Opted to take the CC pregame to Bearnos by the Bridge. Will Perdue and Bob Valvano apparently caught wind and decided to crash. It was cool, never been one to deny a bro a solid pregame. Several extremely solid C-A-R-D-S chants and a good time were had by all.
Seriously, Friday night games are pretty much a de facto holiday now.
With Siva, Kuric and Chris Smith, this might be the best overall Louisville team in terms of finishing on the fast break that I can remember.
This was pretty awesome to see after the postgame interview:
I don't think there's any doubt that Pitino's love for this city and this program is more genuine now than it's ever been. It's one of the major reasons why I really think big things are going to happen here over the next few years, this one included.
Angel makes that three and I jump out of the suite box.
It seemed like a relatively quiet night from Gorgs considering he played 38 minutes but took just five shots and scored only seven points. In a game like that against a talented but undersized opponent, however, the mere presence of a guy like Dieng is invaluable. He kept players like Jenkins and Brad Tinsley from taking that extra dribble or two into the lane where they could have really been dangerous.
Tim Henderson has really stepped up his bench intensity and I couldn't be happier about it. Just a second-year guy coming into his on....that's what that is.
At this point, Air Louie is going to need to do a flip off the scoreboard or spear Ashton Gibbs in order to win me over. The guy brings less to the table than Steve Buschemi's character did in Armageddon (I'm speaking in terms of overall value to the fictional drilling crew, not comedic value to the actual viewing public...Buschemi was hilarious). This is Louisville basketball, the big leagues, not a place where Myron Noodleman is going to perform on the visitor's dugout in the bottom of the fourth.
Louisville has now started 7-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the history of the program.
Siva's seven rebounds Friday night were a career-high.
There was a guy behind me during the Pikeville game who literally said nothing for the entire two hours other than "get him outta there, Denny!" whenever Jared Swopshire would make anything close to a mistake. This has nothing to do with the Vanderbilt game, I was just thinking about it this morning and really want to know if anyone out there has any insight as to what the hell this guy's thought process was.
It doesn't matter now, but the foul call that allowed Vandy to tie the game at 60 in OT was total garb.
What's that? You don't like "total garb"? Start your own blog and you can not say "total garb" as many times as you like. They're free. No one here's gonna stop you.
Luke Hancock humored me with his formal dress against Long Beach State, but was back to "Too Casual Luke" on Friday. I can only assume that Pitino's press conference praise got to his head. Slacks Mike, meanwhile, was doing what Slacks Mike does: giving hard right fist pumps and bringing home dubs.
Now a week of returns is upon us. We've got the (hopeful) return of Rock on Wednesday night against IUPUI (and assistant coach David Padgett), and then George Goode making his triumphant return to the Bucket on Saturday when Fairleigh Dickinson comes to town. Goode is averaging 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Knights, and went for 21 and 12 in their last game. Chris Brickley is also an assistant coach for that team.
It'd be really nice to get the offensive juices flowing this week with visits from Memphis and a very good Charleston squad looming.