After sweating out a pair of victories to start the season, Louisville gave the type of dominating performance on Tuesday that fans have come to expect from the team in November.
The Cardinals played an extended amount of zone defense for the first time this season, and it paid off. U of L held Southern Illinois to just 26.6 percent shooting from the field, including 3-of-21 from beyond the arc, in a dominating 84-42 win over the Salukis.
The contest was ugly for both teams for long stretches during the first half, but once again, the freshmen duo of Darius Perry and Jordan Nwora came off the bench to provide a spark. Nwora wound up leading all scorers with 18 points and also tied for the team-lead in rebounds with eight. Perry chipped in 10 points and a whopping seven assists against just one turnover.
Louisville’s defense was the story of the evening, as the Cardinals took full advantage of a smaller Southern Illinois team that struggles from the outside and was playing without its starting point guard. U of L notched eight steals, forced 16 turnovers and blocked nine shots. It was just the second time since the 2014-15 season that SIU has been held to 42 or fewer points in a game.
—This was the overwhelmingly encouraging performance we all needed to see. I know I did. Seeing the Cardinals be dominant against what’s probably going to be a top five team in the Missouri Valley once it gets healthy was a terrific morale boost for everyone.
—Padgett will likely base much of his defensive choices this season off of the personnel of the offense his team’s going up against. Even knowing that Southern Illinois is a really poor outside shooting team, I feel like Louisville’s going to be better in the zone this year than they are man-to-man. Everyone just seemed more active and aware tonight than they had in the previous two games.
—I don’t care that V.J. was only 2-for-10 from the field tonight. He was effectively aggressive and created good shots for himself that he’ll finish on another night. He also found a way to contribute in another are, matching Nwora for the team-high in rebounds with eight.
—Highlight of the night:
Ray is so damn skilled.
—Jacob Redding finished the night with more points than Q, V.J., Anas and three Southern Illinois starters. He also leads the nation in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage.
—Seeing the bench go nuts throughout the game, but especially during the big second half run, was so damn fun. It reinforced the belief that this could be not only an entertaining four-month journey, but a special one.
—Mike Gminski consistently referring to David Padgett as “Dave Padgett” really bothered me for some reason. You haven’t earned that right, buddy. Dudes who wear one earring don’t get to just casual up everyone else’s names because they feel like it.
—Love seeing Deng use his long arms to notch four steals and continue to attack the rim on the offensive end. I would like to see him knock down a three or two on Friday just to remind himself that the outside shot can be a strength for him. I think sometimes when opposing defenses sag off a guy, that guy starts to doubt his own shooting ability, regardless of how many he’s made before.
—I still think Dwayne Sutton winds up playing a huge role for this team. I think the term “glue guy” is way overused, but he has the potential to check all the boxes of that title.
—Overall just a terrific night for everyone associated with U of L basketball. I’m thankful for it.