A championship team does not collapse and allow a 13 point lead to evaporate with eight minutes remaining. In crucial possessions, championship teams do not rush and scurry down the floor as if they are down 10, taking ill-advised runners and three pointers just seconds into the shot clock. Fortunately for our Cardinals, champions are crowned the first week of April not the second weekend of January, and Louisville's opportunities to be the best are only just beginning.
Louisville had no business losing in Chapel Hill Saturday afternoon, but they found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in painful fashion. The Cardinals were the better team even with Montrezl Harrell playing his worst game of the season and the bench scoring zero points making the sting of defeat that much worse. The Cardinals cannot cling to this defeat and allow it to drag them down, but Coach Pitino needs to keep the wound fresh until we cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
Games like Saturday can provide a valuable teaching tool or they can define a season. A year ago, Louisville consistently collapsed down the stretch and bowed out to Kentucky because they were unable to close the big games against big opponents. In 2014/2015, our team seems to be allergic to the comfortable blow out and has allowed several teams to claw back and hang around. Up until Saturday the Cardinals had stepped up with the necessary stops and buckets in crunch time. Lazy turnovers, bad shot selection, and the refusal to utilize a pump fake cost the Cardinals a crucial road win against another team, and coach, Rick Pitino cannot get the better of.
Positives can be found, and had Wayne pump faked and drove to the basket or gone into the defender, or if Terry's desperation attempt would have fallen we would all feel pretty good right now sitting first place in the ACC. Instead, we must comfort ourselves with the knowledge that Terry Rozier is the best guard Louisville has had since Dejuan Wheat or LaBradford Smith, and Chris Jones has finally settled into his role as point guard. Jones and Rozier were phenomenal and will have to carry this team night in and night out.
Onuaku was also a pleasant surprise, and if he can contribute on a regular basis in similar fashion it should alleviate the massive burden placed upon Harrell in every contest. Snider did not tally any points, but I thought he was poised and made some solid passes off of impressive penetration.
This past week was not Harrell's best in a Cardinal uniform and Louisville needs him to snap out of his current funk quickly. His energy hasn't been as prevalent, but the biggest issue has been his absence on the glass. I have full confidence Pitino will do so, but Montrezl needs to be reminded what made him a national player of the year candidate. Harrell needs to commit to rebounding and dominating the paint as if his entire future career depends on it. Louisville cannot survive in March if Chris Jones is out rebounding Harrell.
Part of Harrell's issues may be attributed to fatigue brought about by Coach Pitino struggling to find a consistent and reliable front court rotation. Jaylen Johnshon, Mangok, Anas, Blackshear, and Onuaku have to step up and allow Harrell to rest a few minutes throughout these brutal ACC showdowns. Louisville's bench has been very underwhelming, partially due to lack of talent and experience, but also due to Coach Pitino's frustratingly short leash. These kids need game experience to improve and learn, and once again thanks goes out to the NCAA for forcing Aaron and Johnson so far behind the eight ball.
I haven't been elected to the hall of fame yet, but that doesn't stop me or any other observer from offering Coach Pitino infallible suggestions. Shaqquan Aaron should start at small forward and Wayne Blackshear should become our sixth man. Wayne has yet to find a mean streak, any sense of urgency or aggression, and is content standing on the perimeter. In 2012/2013, Wayne and Luke traded off the starting spot due to uninspiring play until February where Blackshear became the starter and Luke became the most impressive sixth man in all of basketball. Coming off the bench invigorated Luke and he never glanced in the rear view mirror. It is not my belief that Wayne will become Luke, but I believe coming off the bench could help Wayne change his attitude to 100% earning his minutes and lighting a fire.
Where do the Cardinals go from here? The same place they have always gone under our great head coach: the next game, the next goal, and the next winning streak. Louisville is no stranger to January struggles and our current version of Cardinals have several areas to improve upon. However, every goal this team set is still achievable and the potential of this group with Terry Rozier leading the way should make a believer of us all. Parity continues to rule college sports and Louisville's three headed monster have their sights set on March, let's follow their lead.
All Hail UofL!!