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Full Reaction: North Carolina 72, Louisville 71

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Games like yesterday's are way too convoluted for one postgame emotion to overwhelm all others, but there's a reason why time and perspective are best friends while perspective and the present have a much more complicated relationship.

Twenty-four hours later, it's pretty hard to be anything other than crushed (or whatever your negative adjective of choice is). Still, this isn't an all or nothing/doom or gloom day of mourning or celebration like the national championship game or the Sweet 16 loss were. It's Jan. 11, which means things are way more intricate than that.

On one hand, I'll say this: I am far more confident in this team's ability to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament now than I was at noon on Saturday. If you would have put a gun to my head yesterday morning and forced me to choose, I would have told you that I thought Louisville was going to lose this game. If you would have pressed the issue, I would have told you that I believed there was a decent chance Louisville might lose handily. But what we saw for about 33 minutes yesterday was a massive leap forward. U of L's guards were sensational, the team made effective adjustments after halftime, and one of the three centers who played gave perhaps his best performance of the season. These are the kinds of strides that Rick Pitino's teams have to make in January in order to produce the results we're used to seeing in February.

On the other hand, I'll say this: It worries me how similar this loss was to three of the six that we saw last season. That Cardinal team was notoriously bad at putting good teams away, a nasty habit which they were unable to compensate for in the final minutes of games on multiple occasions. When it happened around this time last year, we talked about the team needing to develop a "killer instinct" and predicted that revelation would take place at some point. We thought it happened with February's win at Cincinnati, but in hindsight, that game was pretty much a mirror image of the other games Louisville lost, only Russ Smith's shot in the final seconds was able to make everyone forget that things should have never been that close. It happened again a week later at Memphis, and we did our best to shake it off. Then it happened again four weeks later against Kentucky, and the season was over. I think it's understandable to be a touch nervous seeing it happen again yesterday.

Louisville lost by 1 on the road against a top 20 North Carolina team that was favored to beat them by 4. Louisville also lost by 1 on the road against a top 20 North Carolina team in a game they led by 13 with 8 minutes to play.

Seeing as there are legitimately dozens of ways to react to that, picking one of two extremes seems like a mistake.

I like the way NBC's Rob Dauster put it.

U of L has three games left to play against two of the top three teams in the country, and two of the only three remaining unbeatens in the sport. They also have a rematch with the North Carolina team that just beat them, as well as a game against a Notre Dame team that went into Chapel Hill on Monday and did what the Cards weren't able to do. That all being the case, it's difficult to foresee this Cardinal squad losing only one or two (or three) games between now and the second week of March.

The good news is those predicted bumps in the road will only have a minimal effect on U of L's ability to win six straight games in the NCAA Tournament. The Cards got arguably the worst performance of the season from their preseason All-American and national Player of the Year candidate, and they were still one made shot away from notching a road win over a top 20 team with six McDonald's All-Americans.

Rick Pitino had talked about how high this team's ceiling was multiple times over the past few weeks, but Saturday was really the first time that I think we could all see it. It was disappointing and frustrating to watch U of L's inability to put away a game it had every opportunity to win, but it was encouraging to witness their ability to put themselves in that position in their first real ACC showcase game.

I_medium We'll start off with the obvious here and say that if Louisville's guards play like that, this team is capable of beating anyone in the country.

The shots that Terry Rozier was making in the second half were almost too difficult to digest. I mean at one point he simultaneously corralled an errant dribble while rising for a well-defended jumper ... and he buried it. I have more confidence in that kid's mid-range jumper than in one facet of a player's game since I can't even remember when. His leaping ability allows him to get his shot up over just about anybody, which means virtually any look for him is a good one. Enjoy watching Terry in a Louisville uniform for the next three months, because I'm feeling pretty confident that you're not going to get another opportunity afterward.

As for Chris Jones, he was really, really good for the third consecutive game. A friend of mine pointed this out a while back, but Jones always, even last year, seems to be the guy who hits the shot that kills the opponent's momentum. It's the shot that not a lot of people remember, but the one that comes right at the moment where it feels like things are about to officially slip away. He was reliable and under control for almost all of Saturday, and really only took two shots that I think you could call "bad" (and one of them went in).

Couple this performance with even an average showing from Trez and I think there are only maybe one or two teams in the country that beat Louisville yesterday.

I_medium Speaking of Trez, I'm not sure if it was his injured thumb or if he was sick, but he just didn't look right at any point yesterday. He walked up the court, he moved extremely slowly during halfcourt sets on both ends of the floor, and he had fewer defensive rebounds than all four of the other U of L starters, including Chris Jones.

Obviously we're all hoping that everything's okay with Trez, but it'd almost be better to find out that there was an excuse, and that this wasn't just some inexplicably odd performance. It goes without saying that Louisville needs its best player to be great if it wants to make a run in March. On Saturday, it only needed him to be slightly below average to walk away with its biggest win of the season so far. The fact that neither of those things happened was extremely disappointing.

I_medium The missed shot at the end, although heartbreaking, is one of those "what are you gonna do?" deals, but I really didn't like Wayne's three two possessions before. Sure, if it goes in it's probably a near-dagger, but I think in that situation you have to let either your best player (Trez) or the hot hand (Rozier) at least get a touch. You also would have liked to have used some clock there.

As great as Terry was, the fact that no one besides him scored a point in the final 7:02 of the game is more than a bit disconcerting.

I_medium A lot of people talked about that missed shot by Wayne as some sort of "make or break" moment for his senior season. I don't think it's that extreme, but who knows? Maybe he goes on a tear if it goes in and maybe he goes in the tank now that it didn't. I think the more likely scenario is that he's going to continue to be the same type of player for the rest of the season that he would have been had he buried the game-winner, which is the same type of player that we've for the past couple of months. But maybe I'm wrong.

All I know is that I loved hearing Chris Jones say after the game that he had full confidence in Wayne taking that shot and that he thinks Wayne makes it 9 times out of 10. Whether or not Jones actually believes that is irrelevant. The statement is important because it showcases the type of bond that we were worried might not exist with this team. Standing up for and protecting one another publicly is big, and for Jones to give that quote I thought was really telling about the direction of his own senior year.

I_medium Pitino talked after the game about the play where UNC was pressing and Trez tried to throw the ball to Chris and gave up a turnover and a lay-up as the biggest of the game, but I actually thought a similar play a few minutes earlier that led to a Tat Heel three was even more critical. That Joel Berry three that cut an 11 point Louisville lead to 8 felt like it was worth about 15 points, and a totally preventable mistake led to it. Super frustrating day overall.

I_medium Would it really be that big of a deal to put David Levitch in for just a couple of seconds every game? Just to see what happens? Twenty-seven and oh.

I_medium In his pregame press conference this week, Pitino was asked what he thought was the next step in this team's evolution. He responded that it was getting some of the younger guys to become reliable contributors.

Right on cue, Chinanu Onuaku gives likely his best performance of the season, and Quentin Snider provides some huge minutes after being forced into the game at a critical juncture. These are the types of things that (win or lose) have to happen in January for a team to hit its stride in late February and March.

I_medium I'm not sure why Mangok Mathiang was in the game during the last two minutes, but obviously his turnover there at the end was huge. I'm also not sure if it was the television angle or what, but it certainly looked as though he could have easily tracked that ball down.

We said earlier in the week that the time was now for one of the three centers to start stepping up big, and Mangok didn't really answer the bell on Saturday.

I_medium I was able to hear a lot of what Rick Pitino was saying during the Clemson game on Wednesday, and he was extremely frustrated when he put Shaqquan Aaron in the game for the first time and Aaron had no idea what to do on the out-of-bounds play that had just been called. Even the untrained eye can tell that the freshman is still looking a little lost in certain situations out there, but the positive from his performance on Saturday was that he never looked intimidated, just as he didn't appear intimidated against two weeks ago.

There's no question that Shaqquan has all the tools necessary to help this team immensely between now and the end of the season. The best thing for him to do right now is to put in some extra hours just making sure he knows where he's supposed to be and what he's supposed to be doing in specific Pitino sets and situations. If he can get that down and get to the point where he's doing more playing than thinking out there, he's going to be terrific.

I_medium I'm still blown away by the fact that we allowed Carolina to hit four of its first five field goals on uncontested dunks. I'm not sure how you can be that confused that many times in a row.

I_medium We can't go this whole post without acknowledging Marcus Paige's shot. I hate that we let him go left, but I mean come on, he's an All-American and that was an All-American type shot. Tip your cap.

I_medium I'm pretty sure I said no more than five words outloud in the two hours after the game. It was as brutal a regular season loss as we've experienced since at least that home defeat to Syracuse during the national championship season. Now, 24 hours later, I'm starting to come around.

If one week from today we're talking about how the team took care of business against Virginia Tech before handing second-ranked Duke its first loss of the season, then the Dean Dome heartbreak is going to feel like it happened about five months ago.

Welcome to ACC life. Never let any single two-hour stretch get you too high or too low.