The easy thing to do, I suppose, is to brush this one aside, say "we lost to the No. 2 team in the country by a single point," and move on. I'm not willing to do that, because the fact of the matter is that this game - which would have been a huge victory in a number of regards - was absolutely there for the taking.
Syracuse did not play well. The Orange made just 1-of-29 shots from outside of the paint, Kris Joseph was hampered by foul trouble and they attempted ten less free-throws than we did.
I will never understand, nor will the rest of the world it appears, why we never flashed someone into the middle of the zone who is capable of making a ten-foot jump shot or a simple pass to the wing. We did the exact same thing with Kuric in the second half of last year's game (a move which Pitino credited Richard with making, even though it had happened earlier in the season against another zone), and Kyle thrived. It just blows my mind that with Kuric and Chris Smith getting nothing on the wings and corners and Gorgui Dieng consistently missing jumpers or throwing the ball away that no change was made.
When Louisville wasn't scoring in transition or off of missed shots, they weren't scoring at all. The Cards opted to slow things down and try to get buckets out of their halfcourt offense after securing a 51-46 lead with two and-a-half minutes to play, and the result was that they didn't score another point.
The other obvious issue is free-throw shooting. There's not an insightful point to be made here. Everyone knows 12-of-21 isn't going to cut it against one of the best teams in the country. It's been a constant problem in Louisville's poor performances this season, and one that seems to be at least partially the product of a lack of focus.
The officials were awful, yes, but if we're being honest, the benefit f the whistle was slightly on U of L's side Monday night. The atrociousness of the Gorgui and-1 call obviously stands out, but I don't think any of us can sit here and make a genuine claim that the referees cost us this game. Or at least none of us should, because they didn't.
Peyton's third foul was inexcusable. I don't understand why we wait until just after play restarts to send someone to the scorer's table to replace the guy in foul trouble, but that isn't an excuse. He knows he's got two, he knows how valuable he is to this team, and he still makes the conscious decision to take a wild slap at a penetrating guard and ends up drilling him in the arm. That changed everything.
I also don't get not playing Wayne more. He played 20 minutes and was on the floor for the key second half stretch against West Virginia, but then doesn't play after halftime two days later. I really, really think that if he gets a good pass from Siva he buries his first shot. And even with the pass at his ankles, the shot was on line and he had a confident stroke. It just seems to be like he could have helped give some life to a halfcourt offense that consisted largely of our three perimeter players taking one dribble before making simple passes to one another.
I'm upset about the way things went tonight, but by no means am I pessimistic about this team's outlook going forward. There are things that happened Monday that should be corrected (you can't get beat down the floor, Gorgui), and I'm confident they will. There are no moral victories at this point in the season, but this wasn't anything like the 31-point loss to Providence or even the double OT loss to Notre Dame. It's extremely disappointing because it could have been won in so many ways, but by no means does is it an example of this team not being "legitimate" or incapable of playing with the better teams in the country.
This hurts because there were significant NCAA and Big East Tournament implications inherent and because there was a lot of emotion involved, but better now than March. This doesn't have to be a loss that completely halts - or, God forbid, turns around - Louisville's forward momentum. In a perfect world, it's the combination of motivation and a learning tool that sparks an even more significant upward trend.
We'll let this one marinate for now. DePaul Day II on Saturday. Should be another good time.
Sleep well, Valentines.