After Louisville played its best half of the season, on a short turnaround no less, and led the slightly favored Shockers by an almost difficult to comprehend 16 point margin at halftime, there was but one question as the second stanza tipped.
Could the sure to be weary Cardinals stay the course, not run out of fuel, and hold Wichita State at bay for what would easily be the most significant win of the young season?
The first possession after the break was not promising.
The Shockers inbounded, and in :31, what could have been disaster struck. Twenty seconds in, Mangok Mathiang, who sat all but two minutes of the opening period because of fouls, committed his 3d. Three seconds later, Deng Adel was whistled for his 3d. Eight ticks after that, Jaylen Johnson was flagged for his third infraction.
The possession ended with a Zach Brown trey.
Visions of Cardinals in precipitous free fall ensued.
Anas Mahmoud then traveled ending the Cards first offensive opportunity.
But . . . but . . . but . . . U of L was nothing if not steely and stalwart for the rest of the game.
To coin a phrase, they bent but did not break.
First came a two minute scoreless drought, while WS was bombarding U of L with a 9-0 triple threeball blizkrieg. This is when Louisville's legs began looking really heavy.
Soon thereafter, the Shockers drew within 6 twice. 44-38 with 11:42 on the clock. 46-40 with 9:28 to play. The former was parried by a second chance Donovan Mitchell J. The latter countered by a Quentin Snider deuce.
Despite some tweedly Cardinal moments, more than a few miscues obviously caused by the onset of exhaustion, Wichita State for all its efforts could never draw within legit striking distance.
If Wednesday night's escape over Old Dominion was the result of dogged determination overcoming woeful execution, the Turkey Day W was an example of the benefits of ball movement, never quit defense and fortitude squared.
Louisville canned only 37% of its shots (19/52), but had assists on 13 of the makes, indicating that for the most part, they kept the rock in circulation. Unlike the night before against the Monarchs.
The Cards won the rebound battle by a way beyond lucky 13 boards.
U of L was steady at the charity stripe, hitting 74% (17/23), while the losers hit only 10/18 (56%).
* * * * *
I loved how The Rick stole clock at the end of the opening half, while maintaining and increasing that surprisingly large lead.
On the hardwood was a lineup which included David Levitch, Ryan McMahon and Matz Stockman. And no, since it was still the opening period, it was not mop up garbage time.
As I've mentioned recently, it just seems that good interludes are manifest when Levitch is on the court. The most productive -- best??? -- walk on in America played but 8 minutes, but his +/- was +12. Glossy.
Tony Hicks, U of L’s not so heralded 5th Year transfer, was for the second time in the last three games a DNP. Murmurs are that there’s as good a chance he won’t be on the roster come tournament time as there are that he’ll be a factor for this squad.
* * * * *
Other stats to savor:
In the best Egyptian blockade since Abdel Nasser tried to seize the Suez Canal in 1956, Anas Mahmoud stymied six Shocker FG attempts. (Before you get your u-trou in a wad, I'm just attempting to wax cute here, not be political.)
Donovan Mitchell trumped his ODU performance with a 14 point, 8 rebound, 5 assist, 3 steal gem. Which included consecutive threes at the 4:10 and 3:17 marks before the buzzer to realistically end any hope Wichita State may have harbored for a comeback.
Q was steady . . . yet again. 14 points, 4 caroms and 3 assists.
Ray Spalding fashioned his best outing of the campaign. He grabbed nine boards and had the two Cardinal blocks that didn't belong to Mahmoud. He had the night's best assist, a beauty to Mitchell for a 20-6 lead.
V.J. King continued to round into collegiate form with his 10 point, 4 rebound stat line.
The yin and yand of Deng Adel continued. He netted three treys early, but only a couple of FTs after the break. (When he was fouled on a beautiful back door cut.) When he returned after sitting for a long time with three fouls, he immediately jacked up a quick ill advised threeball, which was immediately followed by his fourth foul.
* * * * *
In crafting that large first half lead, U of L never went on any monster runs.
Though they did finish the opening period with great D, and an 11-0 stretch that became 13-2 at the buzzer.
(Okay I lied. That's a fairly spectacular interlude all things considered.)
* * * * *
The 62-52 W was a truly outstanding effort by Louisville, as heartening as the ODU performance was disappointing.
What a difference 3/4s of a day makes.
Friday: Baylor for title of King of Paradise Island.
Fasten you seat belts, it’s going to be up and down. Do your neck stretches before tipoff.
-- Seedy K