There's a lot of nitpicking being done after Louisville's 79-61 win over Boise State, but all-in-all I thought this was about as perfect a first-round game as we could have hoped for. We played a team that forced us to give maximum effort on the defensive end - which we did. We took advantage of a team forcing us to beat them from the outside, and got several guys who had been struggling with their shot to knock down some big ones. And we proved we could win a big game with a limited contribution from David Padgett.
I think the positives coming out of Birmingham on Friday night far outweigh the negatives.
The turnaround now is so quick that we don't really have much time to dwell on the past, so this recap post will be relatively short.
Offensive Player of the Game Was: Earl Clark
E5 is playing the best basketball of his life right now, and it couldn't be happening at a better time for any of us. Like most teams in the tournament, the Broncos didn't have much of an answer for Clark, and he stepped up and took advantage. When Boise went zone, our guards - particularly Jerry Smith - did an excellent job of finding Earl in the middle, and he was finishing in the lane the way we need him to when teams go 2-3. Clark knocked down 6-of-8 shots from the field, AND...wait for it...wait for it: stroked a pair of free-throws. It was an excellent start to what could be an enormous tournament for Earl Clark.
Defensive Player of the Game Was: Jerry Smith
Despite his propensity for being slightly out of position when we go zone (I laugh every time I hear Pitino yell "Jerry!" and that's quite a bit), Jerry Smith is always giving maximum effort on the defensive end, and it paid off in the form of four steals last night.
Offensive Play of the Game Was: Sosa's no-look pass to Padgett for a dunk and a foul
Defensive Play of the Game Was: Earl Clark's length of the court sprint to pick off a loose ball and then save it inbounds to Jerry Smith.
Most Excited I Got All Game Was: The previously mentioned Sosa-to-Padgett play.
Most Angry I Got All Game Was: The T-Will breakway fadeaway jumper which led to a run out and a dunk on the other end.
I Inappropriately Laughed When: Jerry threw the ball into the 18th row in the first half.
1. Juan Diego Tello Palacios
There's always that one aspect of one player's game that you have far more confidence in than you should, and for me that confidence is played in Juan Palacios' ability to shoot the three-pointer. I don't know why, but every time he's open I want him to shoot, even though I know the percentages are making jokes behind my back.
Anyway, my faith was rewarded on Friday as JDP hit all five of his shots, including a pair from behind the arc, and finished the game with 13 points. He also appeared to do a pushup at one point, which only makes him that much cooler.
2. Team Defense
A lot of people are saying this wasn't quite the defensive effort they were hoping for, which I find sort of perplexing. The Cards held a team that hadn't scored less than 69 points all season to 61, and forced one of the better three-point shooting teams in the country into a 4-for-17 night from deep. They also did what they had to do and forced a shaky ballhandling club into 18 turnovers.
I shall not complain about any of that.
3. T-Will's Non-Shooting Stat Line
Nine points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocked shots and one steal in 37 minutes.
4. Happy Derrick Caracter
With Padgett on the bench for nearly all of the first half, Derrick gave us 18 enormous minutes. He made all four of his field goal attempts, scored nine points, and for the second straight game played better defense than we're used to seeing from him. His clean block of Matt Nelson's spinning left-handed hook shot was truly a sight to behold. But what I loved most was seeing him standing and smiling with the rest of the team in the game's waning moments.
5. Preston Knowles
Because he's awesome and because I can post this picture:
1. T-Will's Shot Selection
You made three of your first four shots because you were in rhythm and you went straight up and down. You missed your next eight because you were out of rhythm and falling away in every possible direction.
2. The (Brief) Return of Oct. 31 Edgar
It's no secret that Edgar Sosa has been seeking retribution ever since the events of last March, but it was a little disappointing to see him trying - once again - to gain it by scoring 1,000 points. He came into the game with an obvious mentality to put the ball in the basket, and looked just like the guy we saw against Carleton and Georgetown College in late October. He eventually calmed down and made a great pass to Padgett, but after the praise he received for that pass, he got caught up in trying to make too many more like it and made a couple more plays where he forced the issue when he shouldn't have. It was not a Good Edgar performance by any means, but I feel like he needed to get it out of his system, and I think he'll play very well against Oklahoma.
3. Our Fast Break Passing
If Jerry, Juan or Earl come up with a steal and start to push it down the floor, I don't breathe again until the ball is in the hands of our point guard and he's trying to get us into our set.
4. Free-Throw Shooting
Again, 50% (9-of-18) is not going to cut it. I can almost guarantee that free-throw shooting will be discussed ad-nauseum after this team's next loss...should it occur.
5. Unnecessary Helping In the Man-to-Man
There's a lot of trust involved when you play man defense. If you see an opposing player start to penetrate, you have to trust that your teammate is going to keep him from scoring. You can't automatically move over to help out and then watch as a pass is made to your man for an easy basket. We have a big problem with this. A lot of times our front court players will slide over to cut-off penetration when help isn't needed, and that almost always leads to a dunk, a lay-up or two free-throws for the opposing team.
Exactly the type of game we needed to start a deep tournament run. I really don't think we could have asked for much more.
We'll start to look at Oklahoma later today. Until then, enjoy the games.