Though it might sound too dramatic, it is frankly not too hyperbolic to say that Jordan Nwora’s focused, intuitive, game-rescuing block of Marcquise Reed’s floater just before the buzzer Saturday afternoon at the Yum! saved the season for the University of Louisville Cardinals.
There is the macro view. One doesn’t need to impose a Jungian Archetype Test to realize how fragile the psyche of some of this band of Cardinals might be. Most of these guys signed on to play for a two-time national champion HoF coach, at a three time national championship program riding high, to play in front of a packed house every game in the World’s Most Whatever Arena.
Now these not yet adults are two coaches, a scandal, a title, and a fractured fanbase removed from what they expected.
Resilient as these young athletes may be, it has to wear.
The micro view. This inarguably overachieving bunch of U of L Cards has failed to hold on to leads late on several occasions. It happened early in the season. It happened most famously the last time out with the whole hoops world watching.
After thirty nine minutes of slogfest -- both teams played stultifying defense -- the Cardinals appeared clear of Clemson with :17 to play, after a Steven Enoch FT pushed the margin to a three score advantage at 56-49. But a trey by the aforementioned Reed, a mental turnover by Dwayne Sutton and another three by Reed and the Cardinals were treading precariously on quicksand.
The specter of Duke and UVa filled the arena. Would this be disappointing deja vu all over again?
Then Sutton, jockeying for position in the lane to receive Nwora’s inbound pass, had the chair pulled out from under him from behind by Reed, or was pulled down by Reed, or both, and Sutton hit the deck, and the Tigers’ best baller had the rock at point blank range.
When his pass was pilfered, Nwora soared not sulked.
The crowd sighed not roared . . . after Tiger John Newman III’s follow fell short.
It would have counted.
As the Professor opined after it was over and done, “A win is a win is a win is a win.”
I shudder to think how this gang might have reacted had they not prevailed.
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At one point in the action, Coach Chris Mack, who joked post game he would have retired had the Cards lost, proved he is adept at more than Xs and 0s.
At one juncture, Darius Perry netted one of his pair of treys. Khwan Fore was at the scorer’s table, ready to replace him. Mack called Fore back to the bench.
What the coach observed was how the improving Perry was energized by his score, how his normally intense defense kicked up a notch. It is a given that players shouldn’t let the rest of their game suffer if they miss shots, but we know it happens, and they are energized when they see their shots fall, right?
The sophomore guard finished with 8 points on 3/4 shooting and only one turnover.
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The announced crowd of 16,043 was devoid of energy early on.
Such was the intensity of both teams D that there was little to spur the fans on.
A “highlight” of the opening half was U of L’s 5:49 scoring drought which ended with 6:24 to play before the break on a Darius Perry jumper, to pull the Cards within one. The robust score at the time was a Biddy Basketballish 13-14.
U of L was down 4 at the break, after giving up a trey at the buzzer. They were -10 on the boards. Nwora was the only player with more than one tally, and he hadn’t scored since getting the Cards first six points. U of L had forced 12 Clemson turnovers, but only gained a deuce off of them.
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The second half started, uh, not so well either.
On Louisville’s first possession, Malik Williams missed a layup, and a follow tip.
Next time, Fore missed a layup, got the offensive rebound, but then Sutton missed a layup. Which he did again on the next Cardinal possession.
The Cards fell behind 22-29, but a seven point surge by Christen Cunningham and a Sutton deuce that looked like a triple to me pulled U of L within a digit.
Neither team quit.
The Cards prevailed, despite getting shredded on the boards 29-42 and hitting but 35% of their shots. 12/14 at the charity stripe was a serious help in the W.
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One: The timeout homage to the ‘59 Cardinals was less than enthralling. No, it was worse than that, it was pretty damn lame.
That team was the beginning of U of L’s ascendency to the upper echelon of college hoops. They deserved more than that pro forma one minute video and some throwback unis.
That team finished the regular campaign 16-10. After dispatching Eastern Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tourney, they faced #2 Kentucky in the Mideast Regional semi-final at Northwestern’s McGaw Hall. The Cards outscored the vaunted Wildcats by 27 in the 2d, to win 76-61. The next night, they bested Jumpin’ Johnny Green and Michigan State 88-81 to earn a trip back home for what only later became known as the Final Four.
I can advise how much fun it was for one fourteen year old to eat lunch with his Cat-loving pals that following week at Highland Jr. High. A Lot Of Fun.
The following weekend, the Cards ran into Jerry West in the national semi and the Big O in the consolation game. Of no matter really. The Cards had arrived at the Big Time. What a thrill it was to be in Freedom Hall that championship weekend, when Pete Newell’s California’s Goden Bears prevailed.
One old fart’s opinion: That Cardinal contingent deserved more than they got yesterday.
That rant aside, it’s neat that the school recognized that achievement from sixty years ago at all.
Two: At the media timeout with 10:55 to play and the Cards down 33-34, the powers that be chose to pump up the assembled with an energizing version of . . . Jimmy Buffet’s “Wasted Away Again in Margaritaville.” (Or, whatever, the actual title of that let’s get drunk and lay on the beach song is.)
Not that it’s a bad song or anything. But it was the wrong time, and the wrong place.
Three: The Pop Rocks Jump Rope team was damn good. Unfortunately the performance was cut short.
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Speaking of throwbacks, is it time to reinstate a Cardinal sobriquet from yesteryear?
That nickname would be “Cardiac Cardinals.”
Another big one on Wednesday. The Cards travel to Syracuse, to face an Orange team that will have had a full week to rest and prepare.
-- Seedy K