The fourth ranked and undefeated Louisville Cardinals put themselves in perfect position to dethrone the semi-professional Kentucky Wildcats. The name of the game is putting the ball through the hoop and Louisville simply failed miserably at making open shots in a battle of defensive titans. It wasn't the result we all hoped for, but the Cardinals proved themselves worthy of their ranking and are a true contender for their fourth national championship.
I hate losing, I do not believe in moral victories, but I am a realist and am comfortable taking the good with the bad. Louisville played Kentucky almost evenly Saturday afternoon, but their talent differential at certain positions propelled UK to a hard fought eight point victory. Kentucky is a good basketball team with the potential to be remembered as one of the all-time great champions. Louisville is a good basketball team with potential to storm Indianapolis with a solid mixture of veteran star power and freshman talent. Simply put, if you don't feel better about Louisville after Saturday then you are too negative of a fan for me.
My assumption is that the prevalence of social media and constant news alerts has revealed an unwelcomed spotlight on the fickleness of sports fan bases, but the amount of ruthless negativity displayed by some Louisville fans after Saturday is disheartening. Before Saturday these fans were hoping Louisville could keep it close, by 5 p.m. on the 27th they were criticizing everyone from Rick Pitino to the guy working the roasted nuts concession stand. Louisville lost, they could have won, we are 1-7 against Calipari and that is miserable, but this Cardinal team will look totally different and unstoppable come March.
Losing isn't fun, no one hates it more than our head coach, but we had the best team on our schedule against the ropes and whiffed countless times on knockout blows. Debating certain players and coaching moves is the fun of being a fan, completely dismantling and demeaning certain athletes after a loss is childish and embarrassing. Louisville can win the championship this season, enjoy the ride and support your damn team because no one works harder, plays harder, or wants it more.
My biggest criticism from Saturday is for our head coach. Coach Pitino stated that Anas Mahmoud did not practice well leading up to Kentucky, and that his lack of strength was the reason he didn't play. However, after Mahmoud's recent displays in hard fought wins the Sphinx deserved a chance to make an impact. Louisville got absolutely nothing out of the five spot against Kentucky and Mahmoud could have been a spark for the Cardinals. Spaghetti arms aside, Anas has a higher ceiling than everyone on our team and is one of the smartest athletes. I disagreed with this move and I hope Anas's confidence level wasn't lowered.
The difference in the game was the point guard position. Coach Pitino and Louisville shut down the entire Kentucky roster. Then Tyler Ulis entered the game and did his best good shooting Peyton Siva impression. Ulis is a point guard, as pure as they come, and was the key to Kentucky's victory. Chris Jones is a phenomenal defender and hustler, but he still has yet to adopt a pass first mentality. Ulis was awesome, and if Kentucky wins it all he will be a major reason why. He never forced a shot, he dribbled with purpose, he probed the defense to create for his teammates, and when Ulis was open he nailed the daggers. Chris is our point guard and his play is understandably frustrating, but if he made it a personal goal to emulate Ulis or Siva our Cardinal team will storm through its ACC schedule.
With limited minutes, Shaqquan Aaron's play was impressive. He displayed confidence and aggression not fitting of his 89 pound frame. Aaron has been eligible for a week and I wouldn't be surprised if he is our starting shooting guard by year's end. Louisville has so much potential, and the adventure is promising as Aaron, Mahmoud, Jaylen Johnson, and Onuaku continue to learn and develop. The Cardinals are never at their best in December and Pitino's product will look shiny and new by mid-March.
Calipari is an insult to collegiate athletics and losing to his slimy arrogance pains everyone, not just our Louisville brethren. Time is on our side and one day the Kentucky/Calipari empire will be served a double helping of karma and come-uppins. Until then, Louisville simply needs to focus on their own empire and continue building things the right way. Louisville has had championship potential in almost every season for the last decade and the Cardinals are in perfect position to hang banner four in 2015. Take a deep breath Cardinal fans and count to 10 because the next stop is ACC championship number one.
All Hail UofL !!