So, before the game, Doc, SmartGuy and I are sitting around, fidgeting nervously, lamenting the state of the Cardinals, arguing about this and that before tip.
Among the topics bantered around was the assistant coaches.
Without access to practices, and little empirical observation, we wondered how much input they have, who might be responsible for what, etc, etc?
During the conversation, I brought up Trent Johnson, a fellow whose career resumé is lengthy but not especially noteworthy, noting how he doesn’t seem to coach much during the games, sitting as he seems to do at David Padgett’s side with a dour expression, like he’s constipated or something.
But now that we have learned he’s become a Ralph Willard-style whisperer, I feel compelled to apologize for my negativitude.
For we know it was Johnson who sagely urged Padgett to start Dwayne Sutton in Blacksburg. (As Ralph Willard urged Rick Pitino to sign, then not run off Russ Smith, changing the course of the Cards; Trent Johnson may have done the same somewhat similarly getting Padgett to insert Sutton as a starter.)
The DuPont Manual grad’s thirty six minutes on the hardwood, 17 points, 11 rebounds, relentless, dare I say tenacious D, and an explosion of a season’s worth of pent up pine time hustle were undeniably the catalyst for the Cardinals’ most intense performance of the campaign.
His high motor revved redline all game.
Game ball to Sutton. Assist to Johnson, whose suggestion may just have turned this season about. At the very least, there is hope where little existed recently.
(And an admonishing wagging forefinger to Seedy K and his two pals, who doubted Johnson’s worth and doubted the Cardinals had a chance to beat Buzz Williams for the second time this season.)
This Quadrant I victory as a three and a half point underdog with but a 25% chance to emerge victorious according to ESPN’s predictor was HUGE.
Before we relive the two really significant runs of the tilt, more kudos.
Deng Adel played if not his best game -- though I’d argue it was -- his most mature effort as a Cardinal.
He could hardly make a hoop, hitting but 2 of 10 from the field. But he adjusted. He never quit. He moved his feet on defense. He netted 6 of his 7 charity tosses. He snared 9 rebounds, including two off the offensive board on the same possession.
And, deserving its own paragraph, Adel delivered 8 dimes. (Louisville as a team had a significant 19 assists on 24 made FGs.)
It is the kind of effort one expects from a team leader. It was the kind of effort Adel provided.
Quentin Snider must be considered before we move any further.
He was, as we are wont to say when we are in full hyperbolization mode, en fuego.
Seven for 15 from downtown, including one where Hoops God Naismithius let his countenance to shine upon the Ballard grad, allowing a Patrick Sparks foot shuffle before Q launched a successful trey at the shot clock. It gave U of L a 65-61 lead and should have been a +1.
He also delivered six assists, only turning it over twice in 37 minutes of action.
Snider is far from a perfect point guard, but he’s a stalwart and gives it his all most every time out.
Most who played significant minutes deserve our gratitude.
Darius Perry played his usual inside his foe’s jock strap defense, while scoring, and delivering the rock for three buckets.
After Adel hit a couple FTs on the Cards’ first foray after intermission, Ray Spalding tallied the next ten for Louisville and a 44-41 advantage. Two of those were slams, another a lay up, on feeds from Adel.
The Trinity grad finished with 12 and 7.
Other than that marvelous assist/FG ratio, the other team stat line worthy of praise was -- hear me now and believe me later -- REBOUNDING.
The Cardinals were +17 on the boards in Cassell, 44-27. Including 13 off the offensive glass, six more than the home team.
OK, 12/27 from beyond the arc is also noteworthy.
Which is to underscore that several Cardinals contributed consequentially -- which is generally the case when the team conquers.
It’s especially heartening that with this W, the leaders were a trio of homies -- Q, Ray, Dwayne -- 502’s Tres Hombres.
* * * * *
U of L’s heartening not to be denied resilience showed big twice, one in each stanza.
With 6:35 left in the 1st, the Cardinals fell behind 18-28 after a Hokie three.
Then blasted ahead on a 14-3 run that included tallies on three consecutive possessions -- a 2d chance deuce, another by Sutton, and one of Q’s treys -- sandwiching two stops at the other end. A Tech threeball was immediately countered by a Q delivery to Mahmoud for two, a Q trey and two Sutton charity tosses for a 32-31 lead at 2:23.
The second half blitzkrieg commenced when the Cards fell behind 50-55 with 9:02 till the buzzer.
Here’s who canned a threeball between then and the 2:22 mark: Dwayne Sutton. Then Darius Perry. Then Quentin Snider. Then Dwayne Sutton again. Then Quentin Snider again. Then Darius Perry again.
Here’s which Cardinals missed a long ball during that 18-6 bombardment: Nobody.
Three. Three. Three. Three. Three. Three.
That’s not a shower of treys, that’s a thunderstorm. After the deluge, Blacksburg surely suffered Flash Flood Alerts.
68-61. The Hokies, drowning, broken by the implacable Cardinals, never got closer than 5 the rest of the way.
* * * * *
U of L’s performance was far from perfect. The game was won through fortitude and effort. And gold medal biathlon-quality marksmanship. The Cards committed 15 turnovers but it didn’t matter. The Cards were -22 in the paint, but it didn’t matter.
A spot in the Dance is not yet a certainty.
But the Cards are in much better shape now than they were before vanquishing Virginia Tech.
Now the team and fans anxiously await the arrival of UVa and the opportunity to best the best in the land.
-- Seedy K