Here’s how Coach Chris Mack generally assessed the Cardinals performance in last night’s 8 point W over Vermont: “I thought our team, for the first 32 minutes, played as well as we have all year against a really good team.”
That is understatement. Which is what good coaches do with teams still under development.
Truth is, for the first 32 minutes -- 32:45 to be exact -- the Cards were vastly better than in their first two tilts against significantly lesser foes than the Catamounts.
They moved the ball more crisply on offense. As often as not making the extra pass to a guy most open. They were aggressive to the hoop, even the usually hesitant VJ King more than he has shown so far this campaign.
The Cardinals were shooting it really well. At that juncture, over 60% in the 2d. They finished at 57% for the half, 53% for the game. They continued to drain their FTs at a 70+% rate.
Most important, they’d turned the ball over only FOUR times. Tell me the last time a U of L team had been that steady?
Then matters got tweedly.
After Darius Perry converted the end of a +1 after a media break, Louisville led 76-55.
After a little back and forth, a horrid sequence ensued.
Anthony Lamb converted an old fashioned three point play. U of L failed to answer.
Then Lamb converted another old fashioned three point play. U of L failed to respond.
(When, in his pregame remarks, Mack compared Lamb to Adrian Dantley, he was spot on. Back to the hoop. Clear space with his butt. Clever head and ball fakes and up and unders. A scorer.)
Lamb then pilfered an errant Cardinal pass, leading to an Ernie Duncan trey, cutting the Cards’ advantage to a dozen.
The Cardinals got jittery, turning it over several times, Some offensive fouls. The visitors stayed relentless. U of L FTs kept Vermont at bay.
The lead was down to a precarious 8, and I am sure I wasn’t the only Cardinal fan wondering whether UVa Syndrome would strike the Cards?
Fortunately it did not. Lamb finally missed a J at 1:24, and Perry drove the lane for a deuce and a game sealing ten point advantage.
* * * * *
Louisville prevailed because those end of game snafus were not the defining interludes in the battle.
Between the 2d and 3d media timeouts in the 1st, U of L went from four down to a 25-24 lead.
Down again at 31-33, the Cardinals came out of the last media stoppage before intermission and outscored the plucky visitors 14-2 for a 45-35 lead at the break, completing a 17 point first half turnaround.
They stayed intense, keeping the pedal to the metal after cocktail time, pushing the margin to 66-45 at the 11:33 break in action.
In my mind, I kept hearing The Professor’s well worn shibboleth: “The most important parts of the game are the last five minutes of the first half, and the first five minutes of the second half.”
Last night it was true. Those were the moments where the game was won. And the Cards didn’t break at crunch time, when they very well could have.
* * * * *
One must be careful not to read too much into an 8 point win over the #122 team in the land.
What was seriously heartening was the Cardinals’ significant improvement Friday night. For the most part, they were more focused, more intense, more fundamental, more aware, and executed at both ends of the court far better than previously.
It was, frankly, the first ideation of Chris Mack Basketball as it shall come to be for the University of Louisville, during a week when 5/6ths of U of L’s bright future was signed, sealed and delivered.
Now it’s out of the frying pan into the fire -- to use an appropriate cliché that first comes to mind. Tennessee. Kansas or Marquette. Michigan State. Gird thyselves Cardinal fans.
Should the Cards be able to escape the maw of this dangerous scheduling foray with a victory or even two, it would be, to quote sage Martha Stewart, “a good thing.”
-- Seedy K