Oh how very appropriate was U of L's fitful, opening game triumph over (George) Mason, 72-61.
The situation was dire most of the afternoon, and still in doubt with a minute and a half until the buzzer. Given all that's going on, all the questions about the program and this season's prospects, it was just fitting that the Cards needed to dig deep, show some grit and gut out the W against the feisty visitors.
Of the many questions that need to be answered, some were and some weren't. Such as it always is after opening tipoff.
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Favorite Moment #1:
Mason (And I purposely leave off the George, because their SID provided game notes left off the George. I guess it's a rebranding thing.) was forced to call a halt to play with 8:53 left. At the moment they were down 46-49, after playing ahead most of the game.
Not so many ticks before, at the 12:01 mark to be exact, the Patriots forged ahead 46-40 on their ninth layup of the tilt.
Then the Cards battened down the hatches on D, and surged on O. A Q trey. 43-46. A Deng Adel drive to the hoop. 45-46. A Q FT. 46 all. A Jordan Nwora three. 49-46. After which the precocious rookie threw himself on the hardwood, stealing the rock.
For obvious reasons having nothing to do with a Joey giveaway or the DJ's music selection, the crowd was buzzed.
And, like a blast from the past, rising from his seat in the SW corner of the arena, like some deja vu all over again flashback was Rob Hickerson. For ye of tender years or fading memories, he is the inventor back during the halcyon Freedom Hall days of the C A R D S cheer.
He's been MIA for years, but there he stood on his seat, coat waving, and, following his lead, many of the assembled knew what to do.
Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.Clap.Clap. C A R D S.
Don't bother knockin', the joint was rockin'.
I gots to tell ya, Ladies & Gents, for this old fart old school guy it was damn sweet.
Twenty seconds after play resumed, Louisville's other frosh phenom Darius Perry netted another three. 52-46. (After hitting but 1 of 10 long balls in the 1st, the Cards twined 7/10 after the break.)
Though things got a bit tweedly still, Louisville never relinquished the lead.
Favorite Moment #2:
With the game still in the balance, coach David Padgett's favorite Cardinal Anas Mahmoud missed the front end of a 1+1 thrice in a row, twice with a single digit advantage, the third time when the lead was four after another Nwora three.
He was replaced by Ray Spalding, but the Trinity grad fouled out with 1:34 left and the battle still to be decided. Instead of Mahmoud, Padgett rolled the dice and subbed in freshman Malik Williams, who'd been on the pine the whole time before that.
Five seconds later, the neophyte was fouled. At the charity stripe, Williams did a perfect Milt Wagner imitation, draining both freebies. Then the New Coach P in Town went offense/ defense, putting in Dwayne Sutton when Mason had the ball, Malik when the Cards did.
Crafty, game-securing moves, Coach. Tip o' the fedora to you.
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Padgett had already proven willing to play a winning hand.
Darius Perry proved the catalyst in the 1st, when the other Cards were still sleepwalking, diving for a loose ball, making a steal then a perfect feed to Adel on a break, and hunkering down on D.
So, when VJ King showed early in the second he wasn't ready for the fray -- he charged on an ill advised drive on the Cards first possession -- DP inserted Perry in the lineup, where he stayed for the duration.
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U of L's play was far far far from perfect.
But, in some ways, the victory was.
For this team to be successful, it shall need to show resolve. And that they did.
After hitting only 8/28 (1/10) from the field in the opening twenty, Louisville was 14/20 (7/10) in the second. 29%/10% vs. 70%/70%.
The Cards were 20/29 at the line. Subtract Mahmoud's 2/7 and U of L was 18/22. We know that if that doesn't improve, Anas won't be seeing a lot of late game action if the game is close. (The Cards rookies were 11/12. VJ did hit his FTs, going 5/6.)
Giving up 10 layups is troublesome. As Wesleyan and Bellarmine proved in the exhis, and Mason did again Sunday afternoon, U of L's switching man to man is not working. On high ball screens, Mahmoud gets stuck on quicker, shiftier guards and gets beat to the hoop. Which also leaves a Louisville small on an opponent's big.
It's going to be interesting to see what Padgett's D of choice is going to be moving forward.
Other matters to watch: Are Adel and King going to play within the flow, or will they force up shots or selfish drives into traffic? Deng's game wasn't as good as his numbers.
Will Spalding's increased assertiveness continue, and be awarded on his stat line?
Will Perry and Nwora (and hopefully Sutton) continue to provide a spark off the bench? I loved how they, especially Perry, didn't force matters even after canning big threes.
Will the Cards assist/turnover numbers improve. 11/14 will not carry you very far in the ACC or in March.
Will U of L improve its blocking out? The rebound advantage against the much smaller visitors was only five.
These are not complaints, truly, just what I'm pondering, while savoring this delicious opening game victory of a new era of Louisville Cardinal basketball.
Next up, next Friday, Nebraska Omaha, at the Yum! in Kentucky Louisville.
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Before I get out of here, a quick shout out for the incredible Asia Durr and Jeff Walz's women's team.
After getting hosed when no foul was called on the Buckeyes at the end of regulation, the Cards bested #5 Ohio State in OT in Columbus, for the nation to see on ESPNU.
Talk about staying strong.
Durr scored 47 in the Cards' 95-90 win. Efficient. 16/29 from the field, including 9/15 from beyond the arc, and 6/6 at the line.
Myisha Hines-Allen had 14, Sam Fuehring 12 and Jazmine Jones 10.
-- Seedy K