With stultifying defense, and led by the all factors of the game, All-American, 22 point/ 12 rebound dominance of Jordan Nwora, the now legitimately ranked #1 Louisville Cardinals dispatched the nation’s best-resuméd Michigan Wolverines Tuesday night.
Chris Mack instructed his Cardinals to build a wall.
And build a wall they did.
Playing the paradigm of tenacious D, the best the Cards have been at that end of the court since they vanquished the Wolverines for the ‘13 NCAA title, U of L never trailed for a nanosecond and prevailed by the UVa-ish score of 58-43.
Pack Line that, Sweet Virginia.
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More on that D in a bit.
Since he played The Game of His Career, praise for Jordan Nwora’s performance must come now, right behind the lede.
Both teams started nervous. Both teams played clamp down D from the tip.
Lots of missed shots, lots of trips up and down the hardwood to no effect.
With the score knotted at a deuce piece, Nwora’s first bucket at 16:43 put the Cards ahead, 4-2.
For good. Louisville never relinquished that lead.
After a few more minutes of punching and counter-punching, Nwora, on an assist from Ryan McMahon, laid in a fast break deuce.
U of L’s leading scorer showed he was ready to play with an intensity unlike any he’d previously displayed as a Cardinal with 1:34 to play before halftime, when U of L’s once 15 point margin had been whittled to 24-14.
Within the flow of the O, JN fired a deuce from the right baseline that was blocked. The ball bounced about as the teams fought for possession. Nwora hustled to the rock, secured it and blitzed to the hoop to score. 26-14.
Seconds later, he proved it at the other end too, as he did all night, blocking 6-8 Brandon Johns Jr.’s jumper.
The Cardinals opened the 2d flat. Michigan came out of the locker room, as we are wont to say, “ready to play.” The Guys in White -- Love those simple, plain unis -- did not.
The visitors cut the lead to 30-26.
With a Maize & Blue press on, Nwora drew Jon Teske’s 3d foul. Six seconds later, Nwora hit a jumper that stopped the Michigan push. 32-26.
By the by, Chris Mack’s tactical timeout at that juncture worked out brilliantly. Whatever he told the Cards, or drew up on the chalk board, reset the game plan.
Moments later, Nwora again had a jumper blocked, and again he was not to be denied. (Yes, fans, it’s a time to use all the applicable clichés.) He retrieved the rock and scored. 34-26.
Catalyzed by their star, the Cardinals soon pushed their lead to 40-26. On a drive by Nwora.
And he cleaned the windex. leading the Cards with 12 caroms. Given all the Michigan misses the Cards forced, Dwayne Sutton grabbed 11, and Steven Enoch 10. The Cardinals Hit The Boards.
I trust you get my point. I loved Jordan Nwora’s performance on the biggest stage of the season.
Oh yeah, he also played D, and for more about that . . .
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. . . let’s consider just how stifling U of L’s stoppage was Tuesday in the Yum!
Yes, I understand the opinion that the visitors might have been weary from their travel and heady success in the Battle for Atlantis. Which I would give more credence, had I not observed their pep and speed up close and personal, as they went through their pregame drills. So, maybe their focus was a might fuzzy, and maybe all the white in the arena was unduly disconcerting, but here’s the deal:
Louisville Shut Michigan Down. Period.
UM’s a team that starts a couple of lightning guards, both averaging 12+ ppg, most of those on drives to the hoop.
So stalwart was U of L’s D, so consistently good their weakside help and hedging, Eli Brooks and Xavier Simpson’s forays into the paint were -- cliché alert -- few and far between. They scored only 11 between them on 4/17 shooting.
Chris Mack credited Malik Williams and Steven Enoch for keeping incursions into the paint at bay. That pivot duo also did a boffo job on Michigan’s only real offensive factor, Jon Teske. He needed 18 shots to tally a team high 18 points.
Plus the Wolverine guard combo couldn’t deliver the ball to their mates, garnering only 3 assists.
Mack’s well-designed, immaculately executed game plan was to go over the top of ball screens. It was a process of beauty to watch. He must have gotten special satisfaction stopping Simpson, whom he thought he would have playing at Xavier.
Michigan, hitting 53% FG previously, made 15/58 (26%), 42% previously from beyond the arc, netted only 3/19 (16%), averaging 82+ ppg, scored a measly 43.
Though I’m sure, were my memory better, I could provide a more recent example, the last time I recall U of L totally taking a team out of their offense was actually an L. Georgetown in the ‘82 50-46 national semis defeat.
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This was also Samuell Williamson’s best game yet in the red & black. (Yeah, I know, white.)
It was the heralded rookie sub who energized the Cardinals early on.
Almost nine minutes into the tussle, the score was 7-4. Then Williamson soared to the glass on a missed jumper for a follow deuce. 9-4. The kid is a quick, extensive jumper, which he showed on the ensuing defensive possession, snaring a Wolverine miss.
Fresh Kimble missed an attempt on the next possession, but SW’s hustle kept the ball in Cardinal hands, leading to a Steven Enoch trey. 12-4.
In that minute and a half of his on the court, Williamson put his considerable mark on the game and -- cliché alert -- kicked the Cards already considerable energy up a notch.
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I just love it so much.
Big Time College Basketball. In the epicenter, not only of Hoopsylvania, but all of college hoops.
It’s only December 3. Lots of season left, yada yada yada. But, damn, that was fun.
So far so good for the deservedly #1 for now Louisville Cardinals.
-- Seedy K