Two opportunities presented themselves Wednesday to express my trepidations in advance of last night's road encounter with Wake Forest.
First came at my weekly lunch with a couple of pals, both Cardinal fans, one of whom played collegiately, albeit in the Ivy League. After we'd chatted about family, friends, Jordan Peele's "Get Out," the president's speech, the cockamamie weather, when we'd finished our meal with napkins crumpled on the table, I interjected, "We haven't talked about what's really important.
"Tonight's game is really big. A win against Wake who is anxious for a big win to get into the tourney will be a real positive."
Later in the day, an old comrade who has moved away to Gonzaga Country wondered on Facebook why U of L was only a three point favorite?
I posted something about the Demon Deacons being hungry, perched precariously on the bubble, better than their record, that it was a conference game on the road which is always a tough task, ending with "A Cardinal win would be HUGE."
Not that a loss would be fatal, post season seeding is about in position, give or take a seed line, but that with a W, U of L could prove that it's truly beginning to jell and is a legitimate national title contender.
It was not to be.
* * * * *
But it sure looked like a Go early.
The Cardinals tallied their first four trips with the ball, five of the first six.
After blocking a Wake shot, Ray Spalding scored on an alley oop, assist to Donovan Mitchell. Then a Spalding follow, on which his effort was so strong he tweaked his back or hip. Followed by a Quentin Snider triple. Then a Donovan deuce.
That little run ended when Mitchell stole an inbounds pass, was fouled and converted the FTs. 11-4.
The Cards captain and leading scorer netted a trey at 16:49, giving him his fifth, sixth and seventh points and Louisville a 14-6 advantage.
Mitchell would not score again.
It was impossible to see what was coming at that juncture.
Nor at the 9:10 mark of the first, when they Cards had pulled away 32-18, after Jaylen Johnson tallied on three consecutive trips down the court.
* * * * *
Then the bottom fell out.
Foul trouble ensued.
Makeshift lineups couldn't get the job done. The lead steadily eroded.
The harbinger of the eventual disillusioning outcome came as the first half closed. Louisville trapped out of a WF timeout, leaving Mitchell Wilbekin wide open beyond the arc. He canned the three ball with seconds to play.
It cut U of L's lead to a single point at the break.
While Louisville was inexplicably flat and uninspired, the Demon Deacons blasted out of the gate in the second, outscoring the Cardinals 16-4 for a 58-47 lead.
In panic mode the rest of the encounter, Louisville tried to pull even, drawing within three twice late. But the efforts were to no avail.
Wilbekin plunged the dagger with 2:10 to play, lacerating the Cardinals from beyond the arc for a 81-72 advantage.
88-81 was the final score.
* * * * * *
It is at this juncture that I normally talk stats which I find significant. Or mention other specific plays on which the game turned. Or opine which Cardinals played up to par, and which didn't. Or, talk problems I think I observed with The Rick's offensive or defensive schemes.
Not going there.
Because it doesn't matter, really.
On a night when Georgia held on late against Auburn at home to stay in the tournament conversation, Wake Forest similarly stated its case.
On a night when Northwestern made the play it needed to for a defining W -- an incredible full court pass and layup with less than two ticks on the clock -- Louisville did not.
Again, there's nothing fatal about this loss.
Yet it is certainly revelatory.
The Cardinals, individually and collectively, could have shown that season long inconsistencies were a thing of the past. That flaws which have been present when observing their play under a microscope were dissipating.
Again, it was not to be.
The Louisville Cardinals could but not should make it to the Final Four.
The Louisville Cardinals could but not should falter the first weekend of the Dance.
On a night when I for one hoped for a clearer perspective on this team's eventual disposition, it did not appear.
So it goes.
-- Seedy K