Louisville fell to an unranked opponent for the first time in 2016-17, dropping an 88-81 decision on the road to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem Wednesday night.
ACC Player of the Year candidate John Collins was as good as advertised for the Demon Deacons. He scored a game-high 25 points on 7-of-12 from the field and 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, and also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Keyshawn Woods came off the bench to add 20 points.
All seemed to be going well for Louisville in the game’s opening 12 minutes. Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel and Ray Spalding all got off to fast starts, as U of L opened up a 32-18 lead at the 8:03 mark of the first half. Foul trouble for the Cardinals and some hot outside shooting for the hosts trimmed that margin down to a 43-42 advantage for U of L at the break.
Mitchell never got it going in the second half, and fouled out of the game with just seven points. It was tied for his second-lowest scoring output of the season, trailing only a six-point effort in Louisville’s loss at Florida State on Jan. 21.
It’s depression-inducing (or at least it shouldn’t be) to lose to a bubble team on the road in a game they feel like they have to have in order to make the NCAA tournament. What I think will concern most people about this loss is the way it went down.
When Wake Forest’s offense started clicking and scoring got a little more difficult for Louisville, the Cards temporarily crumbled. That can’t happen. Every team is going to have bad stretches in games, the key is not to get buried during those stretches. U of L is typically good at this because they play such great defense, but that wasn’t the case tonight, and Rick Pitino’s team got buried as a result.
Look, we all sort of rolled our eyes when Pitino was complaining about the team’s defense in early January, but his concerns have been validated over the last few weeks. This team, unlike the past several groups, leaves shooters wide open because they get confused as to where they’re supposed to be. It’s not an effort deal, it’s not an unawareness about the lethality of the guy about to launch the three, it’s just that they haven’t grasped these defenses as well as past U of L teams and they don’t communicate as well as past U of L teams. I don’t know if there’s a fix to that or if Pitino is going to have to go a different route moving forward, but there’s not going to be a deep run coming later this month if that specific area doesn’t rectified.
The good news? There are no more true road games left to play this month. Let’s get right on Saturday, get some good vibes going when we say goodbye to the seniors, and then regain some confidence by stringing a few wins together in Brooklyn.
This wasn’t an ideal start to March, but better now than at any other point in the month.