It was the worst of halves. It was the best of halves.
It is not the first time I’ve appropriated Dickens. It is not the last time I’ll appropriate Dickens.
It was in the first half: Louisville 34, Wake Forest 46. It was in the second half: Louisville 52, Wake Forest 30.
Somewhere in Demon Deacon Country during the first half, there was a fanatic named DeFarge, knitting the names of Cardinal defenders getting beat. Somewhere in Demon Deacon Country during the second half, there was a partially knit shawl beside Madame with no more names to be knitted.
Cardinals 86, Wake Forest 76.
All’s well that ends well. I guess.
* * * * *
I have a theory about college hoops. One of many actually.
This one’s more of a gauge of things to come in March, but it isn’t based on analytics or research or an empirical examination of the history books.
It’s more a hunch.
It is that legitimate national title contenders don’t lose at home after the turn of February. It should read, were I shoulding myself, that legitimate national contenders shouldn’t lose at home after the turn of February.
I was not ready frankly to see it tested Wednesday night by the team leading the ACC, which happens to be my team, against the worst team in the ACC.
But it came to pass.
What happened is that the visitors were ready for the late night tipoff, and the Louisville Cardinals weren’t.
In the 1st, Wake Forest hit 60% of its shots, including 6 triples. Outrebounded the Cards by 17-12.
U of L gave it away 9 times, and played with nary a hint of defensive intensity or focus.
I kept thinking of Denny Crum’s admonition, which you’ve heard before and shall probably again along the way, “You’ve got to have a healthy respect for your opponent.”
Fortunately, Jordan Nwora was 4/8 from the cold, wet burbs in the 1st. Otherwise, the battle might surely have been out of reach.
Even Cardinal stalwarts like Dwayne Sutton were MIA. He had only two points and two of those turnovers were his in the opening 20. Fresh Kimble was such a non-factor, I didn’t even jot down his stats at the break. (0 points, 1 assist, 1 rebound, 1 turnover.)
It was not a serene fifteen minutes between the buzzer and tip of the 2d.
* * * * *
Here’s how the Cardinals prevailed.
For the first 3:43 of the 2d, until he committed his 3d foul and was pulled by Chris Mack, Darius Perry played as intensely on defense as any Cardinal in any game ever. He smothered the Deacons at the point, honing the Cardinals’ edge with his ferocious checking.
During that opening span, U of L cut the deficit to 46-51.
Dwayne Sutton was all that. And more. Strong on the boards. Taking it to the hoop. Cutting off attempted drives to the cup.
His was the paradigm of senior leadership. It was what Cardinal fans have come to expect of the DuPont Manual grad. Squared. +++.
After the break, Sutton tallied 13 points. Including 8/10 at the stripe, the surest sign of how he was workin’ to make it work. 8 rebounds and a steal. No turnovers. Maximum D.
Philly Fresh Kimble smothered the visitors like cheese on steak.
14 points. 3 assists. 3 rebounds. No turnovers. Maximum D. Steady as she goes on the throttle.
Jordan Nwora added 9 more points and 5 more rebounds to his stat line, totaling 21 and 7 for the entirety. Tenacious D.
Ryan McMahon made the flashpoint turning point Play of the Game. A trey +1 at 15:55 after the break, cutting the Deacs advantage to a deuce. It was the highlight of a 15 nil Cardinal run over 3:48, which ended with Nwora’s flat footed three and a 55-51 Louisville lead, a measure the Cards never relinquished.
* * * * *
Louisville kept the broken visitors at arm’s length the rest of the night.
U of L was 12/21 after intermission, including 6/12 from beyond the arc. (U of L was 14/28 from long range on the evening, making them 95/209 (45.4%) in their last ten tilts.)
The Cards only committed 2 turnovers after halftime.
Other double digit scorers, totaling 6 in all, were Steven Enoch and Malik Williams with 11 each, and Ryan McMahon with a dozen.
The Cards were 24/31 (77.4%) at the line, all but two of those in the 2d.
Bottom line, despite missing 6 of their last 7 FG attempts, and playing but 20 minutes of a forty minute contest, the U of L Cardinals prevailed by 10.
* * * * *
My contribution to the victory. Every fan has their own talisman. My mojo is the Atherton Rebel ballcap I bought before the Clemson game.
Coming into last night’s battle, it was +18 over Clemson, +17 over BC, and +20 over NC State.
I realized at halftime, I wasn’t actually wearing it. It was only on the table beside me.
With the JMA ballcap firmly on my noggin, the Cards were +22 in the 2d. Which makes the cap +19.5 pg, since it became an integral factor in U of L’s recent success.
* * * * *
Coming Saturday: Virginia.
To whom the Cardinals have lost nine in a row.
Despite their woeful offense, and spotty W/L record, the Cavaliers still have the most efficient and highest rated defense in the country.
— c d kaplan