One factor about Tuesday evening’s ACC opener was paramount for Louisville, way more than any other.
Given their dismal performance on Saturday, considering the upcoming foe on Boxing Day, it was imperative that the Cardinals beat the Panthers.
Win the game. Whatever the exigencies of the situation.
So, you know how coaches will spin a major injury on an opponent’s squad?
“We’re really sorry three time All-American, conference Player of the Year Tyrone Shoelaces went down. We always want to play the other team’s best. We wish we could be competing against him and wish him well.”
Cue the Wayne and Garth (hands covering mouths as if sneezing): “Buussshhhhiiii”
I do not wish Justin Champagnie (17.8 ppg/ 12.3 rpg) and Au’Diese Toney (16.2 ppg) ill. I hope they heal soon. Actually, there’s something kind of old school that their non-participation was not COVID related, but injuries suffered in practice. (Something U of L is all too familiar with.)
I also hope Pitt head coach Jeff Capel gets through his bout with the virus soon.
But, to be honest, I’m glad they weren’t involved against the Cards.
Because it was imperative that Louisville win the game.
By whatever means necessary.
Besides, conference Ws on the road are to be cherished, even if the Panthers had to suit up whoever is their counterpart to Sister Jean, the Basketball Nun.
* * * * *
My two favorite interludes of the game:
One came just short of midway through the 2d, when both teams were sluggish and out of sync, but the undermanned Panthers were staying close, threatening to grab the lead.
Which, had it occurred, might have been too empowering and fatal for U of L.
Dre Davis was having his second out of sorts performance in a row.
But, when Pitt pulled within a digit at 40-39, Davis netted a 15’ J from the foul line. 42-39.
Next trip down, Mack obviously called a post up set for Davis.
The first pass to the rookie in the post didn’t work. A smidge too far from the hoop. Too well checked. The rock went out, the rock returned, after Davis had carved himself a space a step or two closer to the hoop.
Jae’Lyn Withers’ come and go D, it would seem, is one of the reasons he’s been sitting so much as of late. Yet, on the next trip down the hardwood, he was strong, forcing a Panther giveaway, which resulted eventually on the ensuing possession in a couple of made FTs by Carlik Jones.
So, at 10:09, Louisville again had Pitt measured, 46-39.
My other favorite offensive moment came not long after.
David Johnson and the Cards hurried the ball upcourt. Not a fastbreak, or even what the Baby Blues call a “secondary break,” but with dispatch.
DJ, head up and aware, saw Sam Williamson make a deft cut to the hoop from the left corner along the baseline, and delivered. When Sam realized he was double teamed, he curled the ball to open JJ Traynor for a layup. 51-43.
* * * * *
Of interest, at least to me, is that Pitt’s run in the 1st to get back in the contest — 17-3, it was — started after the third of the Panthers’ trio of stars sat in foul trouble.
Louisville fans with a memory will remember the name Xavier Johnson, who just sliced and diced the Cards the first time they met.
He had but two at the break, but his mates had pulled within a bucket, after once being down by 15 after a Josh Nickelberry triple.
They kept it close thanks to 8 Cardinal turnovers, which led to 13 Panther points. And a breakout half by newcomer Femi Odukale. (DJ did a fine job of covering him in the 2d, thwarting his relevance.)
* * * * *
U of L had some horrid stats at the 5:46 media stoppage.
They were ahead just 54-46, despite a 39-22 advantage on the boards.
They were only 8/17 at the charity stripe. The Cardinals netted 4/4 down the stretch. Still 12/21 (57%) is unacceptable.
* * * * *
In the end, it was the Sam & Dave show on offense.
Double double. Double double.
Williamson, much more assertive on O than he has been, scored 14, snared 12 misses.
Johnson, more comfortable with Jones back and Nickelberry to provide some relief, had 17 and 11.
Now, if they can only take better care of the ball. The duo was responsible for 10 of the Cards’ 17 miscues.
Carlik Jones, even out of shape after his layoff, is indispensable.
Despite the roller coaster nature of their games and intensity so far, neophytes Davis, Withers and Traynor are keepers.
* * * * *
Twas far from a new Lexus with a bow on the roof in the snowy driveway. But it was a league W on the road. Which is always a nicely wrapped gift, even more especially this particular Christmas week.
Next: Oh, you know.
— c d kaplan