Wednesday night marked the first time in 368 days that the University of Louisville men's basketball team won a game outside of the maple syrupy smelling confines of Freedom Hall. With an injured Juan Palacios watching from the sidelines, the Cards went small and the result was an 81-55 blowout of South Floirida which has now lost 18-of-19 conference games since joining the Big East last season.
Perhaps Rick Pitino's "you're starting, you're sitting, you're starting" technique with Brandon Jenkins finally struck a cord as the senior gave his best performance of the season, hitting five of the six shots he attempted (including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc) and finishing the game with 14 points.
Jenkins keyed a 12-2 run that put the game away after the Bulls had pulled to within four near the start of the second half. After a timeout, BJ hit back-to-back three pointers and then finished a fast break with a lay-up to cap a one-man spurt that crushed the spirit of the crowd in the Sun Dome.
Terrence Williams also gave an inspired performance, scoring 17 points, pulling down 9 rebounds, and throwing down yet another electrifying dunk. T-Will also continued to show improvement from beyond the arc where he hit two of his last three attempts and was 3-of-8 for the game.
As a team Louisville went 13-for-30 beyond the arc, matching a season high and getting nearly half its points on 3-pointers.
For the first time all season Rick Pitino appeared to make a concerted effort to let the players on the floor play through their mistakes. Starters Williams, Jenkins, Jerry Smith and David Padgett (who looked more agile than he has in two years; see follow-up dunk) all played more than 30 minutes in the game. The other starter, Edgar Sosa, was hampered with foul trouble for most of the contest and played 19 minutes.
"We just happened to have a great night and they had an off night," said Pitino. "I'm really proud of our guys. It's a great confidence booster for them, the way they shot it, moved it, passed it, played defense."
Perhaps the best story of the night was the play of senior reserve Chris Current who logged a season-high 14 minutes and responded with 10 points and scrappy play that created or saved numerous Cardinal possessions.
Despite being without the services of Palacios and freshman Derrick Caracter, who Pitino did not allow to make the trip with the team, the Cardinals outrebounded USF 32-25. Some have also pointed out that in both of Louisville's most impressive performances this season (Wednesday night and the Miami game), Caracter has not even been in the building. Just sayin'.
Many Card fans, myself included, were surprised to see that Earl Clark, who had seen his court time spike in recent weeks, didn't play a second. Clark had been subbing in for Juan Palacios at the 4, and one would think that he would see significant time in a game in which JDP was unable to play, but for whatever reason this wasn't the case.
I can't speak for anyone else, but this was the first time all season that I can honestly say I had a great time watching a Louisville basketball game. The spirit, effort level, and overall demeanor of the team Wednesday night was refreshing and got me somewhat eager (Thought about using "excited" but held back) to see where things go from here. Yes I'm aware that the opponent lost to Texas A&M Corpus Christi three weeks ago, but it was the scrapping, the excitement on the bench, and all the other little throwback intangibles from 2001 that made this game such a pleasure to watch.
To Rick Pitino, don't be afraid to keep your best players in the game for as long as they can stand. Jerry Smith and Terrence Williams have got to be on the floor for this team to compete. Give me something to look forward to Rick, without Cardinal basketball the winter is long and cold and nothing else, ya gotta help me Rick, I'm desperate, I can't do this alone.
Im summary, awesome stuff, and the Providence game Saturday is ginormous.
Peace, love, Cards.