Whatever happens this week in Phoenix, I think we can all agree this has been one of the more memorable two week spans in the recent history of Louisville basketball. The team that couldn't score, was too low on talent and that had a head coach who needed to hang it up has become a Big East champion headed to the Sweet 16.
As tempted as I am to drive further along the "how special this March has been" path, the time for reminiscing isn't here yet. The recent past has been great and it's going to be fun to talk about the future this spring and summer, but neither can compete with right now, because right now the dream is alive and anything's possible.
We live and die with these guys all year, hoping to eventually be in this position. It's late March and Louisville has another game to play. Excitement, nerves and red clothing should be out in full force for the next four days.
Rick Pitino said during the postgame press conference that this was about as happy as he's ever been in basketball, and I don't believe this is a case of Pitino-speak.
This team has been up-and-down for the past four months, but the fact that Pitino seems to really, really like this group has been a constant. Even Kyle Kuric said after the game that it was the happiest he'd ever seen coach.
Every media member who's been around this team, even those who cover Lexington Basketball Academy, has spoken highly about the team chemistry and the character of the individual players on it. We've had few groups more deserving of this type of success in March.
Did you know Rick Pitino is 9-0 all-time in the Sweet 16? Because Rick Pitino is totally 9-0 all-time in the Sweet 16?
The complete transcript of last night's postgame press conference featuring Pitino, Russ and Gorgui is available right here.
Russ and Gorgui warranted a lot of the postgame headlines, but I actually thought - outside of a couple of poor decisions and the return of the weird floater problems - that Peyton Siva played very well again. New Mexico did as solid a job defending him as anyone has this season, but unlike in January and February Peyton didn't try to do too much, especially in the second half.
The good: Not trying to over-penetrate, making some tremendous passes, the big bucket late in the game, and the huge pass to Gorgui for the big late dunk.
The bad: Another inexplicable hack foul to send him to the bench and the weird floaters in the lane (he shoots it like the "floater" pitch at the end of Rookie of the Year). Just follow through and guide it towards the basket like you would any other shot.
Despite the last paragraph, Siva's playing at an incredibly high level, and is the biggest reason his team is still playing at all.
Gorgui hit two incredibly impressive shots, had the biggest basket of the game with the late dunk, had 10 rebounds, three blocks, two assists, two steals, and just one foul. He also broke the New Mexico press with his dribble and hit Kyle Kuric for a wide-open three and attempted a desperation three himself. Neither went it, but still, cool.
Gorgui, whose new good luck charm has apparently been wearing an old U of L Final Four ring, on the last dunk: "When you roll, roll hard."
I want that on a bumper sticker.
Chip Cosby has locker room interviews with most of the players on the team from last night. Some good stuff there, including the Chris Smith video posted here earlier.
It's to the point where I almost feel like if I'm going to cheer when Russ does something good, I'm not allowed to get upset when he does something completely incomprehensible. His three-point shooting and defense could not have been more enormous, but then he also almost single-handedly let New Mexico right back into the game after the Cards had built a 15 point lead. Both extremes are almost inherent when he checks into a game.
It's just...Russ. And I love him.
Pretty sure every one of us did this at least two or three times last night.
It had a firm grasp on second best GIF of the postseason until this happened.
It's too close to call.
CBS ran a great piece last night featuring all the highlights from the RickRuss postgame press conference.
"There's an Academy Award-wining moving called One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," Pitino joked after his No. 4 seed Cardinals defeated the No. 5 seed New Mexico Lobos 59-56 in a West Regional Round of 32 game on Saturday night. "Coaching this young man is going to make me re-make that movie.When you coach Russ Smith, you have a nervous breakdown on every possession."
Who could blame Pitino for his hearty belly laughs and headshakes of disbelief after this one?After all, Smith airballed a first half dunk, talked back with such annoying regularity during one timeout that Pitino hinted he was on the verge of violence, and danced behind his coach during a post-game television interview.
But the New York guard also scored a team-high 17 points, knocking down all three of his 3-pointers, as Louisville escaped with the victory despite some tense late-game moments.
"He always comes up big for us," Pitino said. "When we struggle for points he's there. I'm really proud of him."
"Coaching him is about as much fun because you really don't know what's going to happen on the next play," Pitino said. "He bailed us out with threes tonight. If you look at the statistics, he's probably shooting 26 percent. He's really not a three-point shooter, he's a 2-point shooter, but he made them tonight."
The two sat side-by-side during their post-game press conference, giggling and finishing each other's sentences like high school BFFs.
"Me and coach have a lot in common," Smith said. "We're both from New York, I just like to learn from him. He's always telling me to make the right play. I try my best, but it sometimes doesn't work."
"To show you how funny Russ is, I told him: 'Any 5-foot-10 guy from New York City can dunk a ball. Just lay it up and put it in.' Then I told him after the game, I said Russ, 'Why would you do that?'He said, 'You're right, coach. I should have never put vaseline on my hands before the game. It slipped out.'"
Pitino looked out at the media crowd like a stand-up comic milking a punchline.
"This is what I'm coaching every day."
"We have a blast together away from the lines," Pitino concluded. "Between the lines I'm trying to drive them to limits they didn't think they could get to. Russ Smith -- nobody wanted him [out of high school], I don't care what Russ tells you. And here he is."
I love this so bad:
I have to mention this because it was without doubt the best game-watch moment of the postseason to date, but I fear it's not going to translate because the noise in question is impossible to comprehend without actually hearing it. I'm going to try anyway.
So Louisville's up five with just under two minutes to play and there's a loose ball. The friend to my immediate right, we'll call him Shmaniel Shmudd, let's out in the most manly voice possible: "HE KICKED IT! HE KICKED IT!" The ball ends up rolling right to New Mexico's Kendall Williams, who attempts a wide-open three which would have cut the lead to two. As the ball is in the air, Shmaniel lets out (as best I can describe) this sound: "AAAWWWUUUUAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH" in one of the highest pitches I've ever heard.
Now this is the one of the most important sequences in an NCAA Tournament game that already has my nerves shot to sh-t, and I still can't help but absolutely lose it while the ball's still in the air after hearing this. The shot clanks off the iron, everyone else starts laughing, and Shmaniel shouts (back in manly voice), "I COULDN'T HELP IT."
I don't ever want this month to stop.
New Mexico had been 58-0 under head coach Steve Alford when holding opponents under 60 points. Pretty unreal stat to break.
I think it's safe to say Louisville is 0-for-1 on containing opposing stars in the tournament after Drew Gordon's performance on Saturday. That was about as well as Gordon can play, and if we're saying the same thing about Draymond Green on Thursday night, then I'm pretty sure we'll also be talking about the end of the season.
This was not a Kyle Kuric game and the box score reflects that, as he finished with one steal and no rebounds. He did hit a pair of big threes and score ten points, but there's no question we're going to need more from him on Thursday in another game that isn't particularly conducive to his style.
Pitino said after the game that he wants to take Wayne Blackshear from playing around eight minutes per game to 12-15. I have my doubts about that actually coming to fruition, but did you see that drive and step-back baseline jumper? He is the only player on this team who is capable of doing that.
Because he got such a late start, Wayne is still in the "terrified of making a mistake and being pulled when I get into a game" portion of his progression. It's when he hits a shot and gains the confidence that he belongs on the floor when the insight into his vast potential is so easily apparent.
After he hit that jumper, Wayne made a really nice pass inside to Gorgui that would have resulted in an easy basket if Gorgs had caught it cleanly, and then he came right back with a steal on the other end. He also finished with three rebounds in just eight minutes.
The fact that we now have Rick Ross parody songs about Russ Smith being made blows my mind. For being made just last night after the game (according to the guy who emailed me this), it's actually quite impressive.
Ten more points for Chane as the Babies 4 Behanan movement continues to roll on like a damn locomotive.
Against Michigan State, the Cards will be out for...Russtice?
The abundance of Bullet/Russ (Buss? Still working on it) photos has been one of the biggest surprises of the postseason thus (Bruss?) far.
Infra-reds on Thursday, y'all.
Love that the coaching staff told everyone, including the local media making the trip, to pack for both Portland and Phoenix, but didn't want the news spread until after they advanced. Makes sense on both fronts.
For those asking, the game time for Thursday night has not been announced yet. There will be a post here when it is.
An update on the Cards' three-point defense in the postseason:
Seton Hall - 16 percent
Marquette - 15 percent
Notre Dame - 12 percent
Cincinnati - 21 percent
Davidson - 21 percent
New Mexico - 22 percent
Louisville is now the No. 2 defensive team the country, one spot ahead of the Spartans of Michigan State.
It started with a whispperrrrr
The fact that TBS changed camera angles in the middle of Drew Gordon's length of the court heave at the buzzer nearly gave me a heart attack. Nothing good ever happens to the Cards when they go to that behind-the-goal camera.
I think this was one of the better overall games Chris Smith has played this season. Hit some big shots, moved the ball well on offense instead of holding it or taking two meaningless dribles, and always seemed to be in the right place on D.
You've earned that dip in the pool, CS5.
As positive as the vibe is (and should be) right now, I think we're all in agreement that Louisville is going to have to play better against Michigan State than it did against either Davidson or New Mexico if they want to advance to the regional finals. The Lobos' three-point shooting statistics held with what the Cards have been doing defensively all March, but they still just plain missed several clean looks. And then there's also the fact that Louisville was outrebounded by 11.
Michigan State does everything New Mexico did well against Louisville, and they do it much better than the Lobos. The Spartans play better man-to-man defense, they rebound better, and their star player is better. It's going to take a supreme effort for the Cardinals to take that next step in the direction of the Final Four.
That said, we owe these guys one, and I can't wait.