I'm not ready to call Sunday's performance the best of Louisville's season to date (although I'm also not ready to say that it wasn't), but I don't think there's any question that the game produced the most positive overall vibes of the 2014-15 campaign.
The lackluster performance against Duke and the succeeding eight days without Cardinal basketball certainly both played a role as well, but I also think Louisville needed Sunday for its overall evolution. Shots went in, each member of the big three turned in a stellar performance, and U of L walked out of an arena that historically been a graveyard for top 10 teams with a victory. It doesn't mean that the Cards proved that they deserve to be mentioned as one of the top threats to Kentucky/Virginia or that we should definitely be reserving rooms in Indianapolis, but this is a game they would have lost if they didn't have that potential. Cue the positive vibes.
I'm going to talk about this a little more later in the week, but I'm not sure we've been appreciative enough of just how good Terry Rozier is, and I know the nation isn't appreciative enough of just how good Terry Rozier is.
Rozier is in the middle of a full-on superstar turn, and once he delivers a monster performance in a spotlight game that Louisville wins, I think the national chatter is really going to pick up. We're 19 games into the season now, and the sophomore guard has been kept out of double figures in scoring exactly once -- a 9-point effort in that November game against Cleveland State where nobody could score. He's averaging more points per game at this point in the season than eventual first team consensus All-American Russ Smith was, and his season scoring average (17.9 ppg) is just 0.3 ppg fewer than what Smith's wound up being. Oh, and he's leading the ACC in steals.
Basically, while way too many U of L fans (myself included) have been caught up in Montrezl Harrell Captain-Gate, Chris Jones' ability to be a "true" point guard, and why Wayne Blackshear isn't better than Anthony Davis, Rozier is in the midst of one of the better seasons we've ever seen from a Cardinal guard. The time to start appreciating that is now.
Terry is almost becoming the basketball equivalent of DeVante in that I'm never opposed to sending the ball in his direction and then just letting whatever happens happen. I also think Pitino is giving him, more or less, the green light to go on offense, which is the right play in my eyes. I mean, if there does come another game like Duke where he's something like 5-of-18 from the field, do we really think there are other guys out there who would have taken better advantage of those 13 shot attempts? He's the most well-rounded offensive threat on this team and there are times where you just have to let him fire.
His streak of doing at least one thing that makes everyone shake their head and say "Terry is so f'ing good" is also somewhere around 11.
My entire weekend felt accomplished because I got go use both of these during the game:
Does she got a booty though? https://t.co/B2d1npTw7B— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 25, 2015
.@SteveJones_CJ After party: pic.twitter.com/p7rezVkCYr— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 25, 2015
Aside from the technical foul, RGCJ (Road Game Chris Jones) was once again tremendous. The move he made where he beat his man with a behind the back dribble, did that little ball fake thing that he does after jump-stomping, and that hit Trez for an open dunk was one of those things that just made you go, "man, this kid can be so good."
While the technical was stupid, you also have to give him credit for calming himself down afterward and not letting it drive his game into the ground there at the end. If he doesn't pick himself back up then there's a decent chance Louisville collapses and doesn't win the game.
Seventeen points, 9 assists, 3 turnovers and 2 steals is quite all right.
You hate to do this in a game your team won by 12 points, but that was easily the worst-officiated game of the season. While unforgivable, Jones' technical was the result of him being angry over a guy who was totally out of position and who had just called an atrocious foul against him being the one who blew the whistle. He definitely walked, but I was right there with him when it came to being frustrated. If Pitt hits a few more shots or Louisville doesn't step up when things get dicey there in the second half, there is an absolute (and deserved) meltdown over the officiating that is still going on right now.
I'm not sure we've ever had a more satisfying finish to a game than when Mangok swatted the ball in the closing seconds and drilled the baseline ref in the face. The best part was that you could tell he wanted to get mad and call a T or something, but he knew he couldn't justify it. Perfect way to end a weekend and begin a work week.
Maybe this will be disproven in the long run, but Sunday felt like an important game in Montrezl Harrell's season. He was frustrated early and turned the ball over a couple of times after being double-teamed, but unlike the last few weeks, he didn't seem to let it affect his effort or his play on the other end of the floor.
This was a vintage "Old Trez" game. He ran the floor, he put himself in position to finish around the rim when his guards set him up, and he even got in a dude's face who shoved him ... which I kind of liked, because he didn't do anything egregious, but he also maintained the level of intensity that has made him great. I did think, however, that he toned down his theatrics after dunks and made shots around the rim, which, even having made that last statement, is a welcome change. We need Trez to be Trez, but the posturing and stuff after dunks always feels kind of fake, even if it isn't. It was definitely going to get him another T at some point before the end of the season if it continued.
We've seen Rick Pitino give his upperclassmen a long leash and let them do a lot of what they want to do early on in their final seasons as Card (Russ playing point, etc.), but this is the point in the year where everybody starts doing things coach's way. Trez getting back to doing the things that made him an All-American in the first place is a prime example, and a huge positive for this team going forward.
We hadn't had a foul trouble/foul out Wayne game in a while, so I suppose we were due. It's a shame because he stroked a few really tough shots early on in the first half.
Pretty good stuff from the Oakland Zoo, which always brings it:
TERRRRRYYY! pic.twitter.com/DTUd5F1UHa— Oakland Zoo (@OaklandZoo) January 25, 2015
From the looks of the Petersen Events Center right now...the @OaklandZoo came ready for action! #H2P pic.twitter.com/zYZLbusp9B— Pitt Athletics (@PittAthletics) January 25, 2015
Louisville's Chris Jones has cable RT @TheBD3: @OaklandZoo ☕️ pic.twitter.com/ZNnjoI4xxe— Oakland Zoo (@OaklandZoo) January 25, 2015
Early returns from Anas' beard were inconclusive, so thankfully we're going to get at least one more look.
Pitino sort of downplayed the significance of Mangok's performance by saying that he scored 11 points because he actually made free-throws and Chris set him up a couple of times, but honestly, that's kind of all we need him to do. Make shots around the rim, rebound, defend decently, and make free-throws.
I can't help but feel like Pitino putting Levitch in at the end of the Duke game and Avare in at the end on Sunday represents some sort of changing of the guard. I don't know how to feel about it.
Having the postgame coverage on WLKY makes me wish that every U of L game was on CBS. It's like hanging back at Freedom Hall in the old days to listen to them play the postgame interview over the loudspeakers and broadcast the postgame press conferences on the big screen. Makes experiencing a win just that much more enjoyable.
I love Nanu, but there's going to come a time late in an ACC or NCAA Tournament where we've got the ball with the game on the line, he's going to receive a pass, and then my heart is going to instantly explode. I'm not sure we've had a player who gets big minutes that has ever made me more nervous with the ball in his hands.
Great to see Quentin Snider see the ball go through the net, and on a really good move, too. He seems to be better every time he sees the court, and I think, if this game is actually played on Wednesday, we're going to see much more of him.
Terry and Mangok both put in a huge early push to be the winner of this year's "Terrence Jennings Award," given annually to the Louisville player who produces the most inexplicably amazing improvement from the free-throw line in the second half of the season.