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Extended thoughts: Louisville 77, Wake Forest 65

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The baby does the C-A-R-D-S cheer now. Everything has changed.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 02 Louisville at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No big lead in today. Tim Duncan walked and fouled out in ‘96.

Let’s hop right in.

—I think we have to start this post by talking about Samuell Williamson, who has easily (and justifiably) been the most heavily criticized Cardinal through the first two months of the season. That criticism reached an apex after last week’s game against Virginia Tech, where Williamson’s lackluster play (and effort, according to his head coach) resulted in him watching from the bench as Quinn Slazinski took his spot for all of the game’s most crucial moments.

Mack and Williamson had a lengthy discussion following the game, and the former McDonald’s All-American responded not by pouting or by posting some passive aggressive message on social media, but by earning the coveted gold jersey as the team’s most valuable practice player for the previous week. It was certainly a step in the right direction, but I think everyone rooting for Sam wanted to see it carry over into an actual game.

It carried over Wednesday night in a major way.

It seems silly to say, but I love that Sam screwed up right off the bat. Traveling 10 seconds into Louisville’s first offensive possession gave Williamson all the motivation in the world to hang his head, say “here we go again,” and bring his effort level back down to where it was when we last saw him. None of that happened.

Sam got himself back into a groove by doing the seemingly simple thing his head coach said he needed to prioritize the most: He played his balls off (my words, not his). He ran the floor, he fought through screens, he ripped away rebounds from bigger, stronger players, and he played with the desire of a walk-on desperate to just keep seeing the floor for 5-8 minutes a night.

Knocking down a handful of open looks from the outside was obviously nice, but it was that effort level and that tenacity that has me the most excited about the remainder of Samuary (TM). It was that effort level and that tenacity that led to him coming home with a game-high 11 rebounds, and which led to him being a key cog in the Cardinal defense tightening up when the game got a little too close for comfort in the second half.

Out of all the positive takeaways from Wednesday night, none was larger than the play of Samuell Williamson. He’s not V.J. King, he’s not Shaqquan Aaron, he’s going to be just fine.

—There are strong cases to be made for Clemson’s Aamir Simms and Duke’s Matthew Hurt, but it’d be hard to vote against Carlik Jones for ACC Player of the Year if the season stopped today.

The guy missed several midrange jumpers that he typically knocks down (the lack of bounce in his legs was very evident in the second half), and he was still so clearly the best player on the floor all night. The leadership, the absurd shot angles, the shiftiness, the being able to predict how the ball is going to come off the rim; he is just such a delight to watch each and every single time he’s on the floor.

How in the world was there no foul called on the breakaway layup after the steal?

I’m running out of ways to compliment the guy that aren’t overly redundant. Just about every time we need something from him, he produces it. I can’t imagine where we’d be if he’d chosen to spend his final collegiate season somewhere else.

And also, if he decides that he doesn’t want this tp be his final collegiate season ... you know what, let’s just enjoy the present.

—This was a big time performance from Dre Davis on a night where we really needed him to step up. His propensity for making moves at key moments that are both extremely aggressive but under control — Seton Hall, Pitt and last night — continues to be remarkably impressive. His defensive prowess also deserves a ton more love from everyone, including myself, so let’s give it a shot.

Dre Davis f—-ing rules at playing defense.

Does that cover it? Is that sufficient? Cool.

My heart dropped when he went down in a heap after that beautiful up and under move late in the second half, and it looked for a moment like he might be dealing with something more significant than cramps.

Dre has become an invaluable member of this team, and I’m not sure Louisville could win the ACC (IT’S TIME TO STRAIGHT UP ADDRESS IT) without him.

—The Dre Davis Three-Point Era Watch Group would, however, like the record to reflect that it did not sign off on his early in the shot clock, contested attempt from the wing just as Wake Forest was starting to seize momentum. The Era is still “on” for the time being, but this was the type of transgression that has made our services necessary.

—Four different players, including Davis and Jones, dealt with fairly significant cramping issues at various points on Wednesday.

There’s really only one person to blame for not having these guys adequately hydrated for two hours of battle. You guessed it, Kenny Klein.

Give the kids their damn fluids, Kenny.

—It feels like in every relatively close game that we’ve been in this season, Quinn Slazinski has made at least one scrappy play at a crucial moment.

I think this from last night qualifies.

Just a blue collar guy out there who knows how to make winning plays and be another coach on the floor whose grit ensures that he’s going to have floor burns on his knees like a true gym rat.

Did I miss any?

—The Wake Forest pumped in crowd noise was even worse than what we started with at the beginning of the season. Like playing a basketball game with the loudest, shittiest white noise app humming steadily in the background for two hours.

—There were a couple of times early in the season where I thought David Johnson — a young man understandably interested in his NBA draft stock — was kind of point hunting in the second half of blowout games where he hadn’t scored a ton early on. He wasn’t the first Cardinal to do it (see: Jordan Nwora, November of 2019), and he won’t be the last.

Last night, however, I thought David did a really good job of accepting the fact that Wake was going to take his scoring ability away and force other guys to beat them. He took what was placed in front of him, and walked away from the contest with nine assists against just one turnover.

We should mention that the one three he drilled was pure cash, producing that gorgeous net ripping sound that rivals Sam Cooke’s singing voice and the CBS college basketball intro music.

The silly fouls, however, those have to stop. And it’s not just David. Jae’Lyn Withers fouled out last night, and three of the five whistles he received were easily avoidable, especially the last one.

—Chris Mack had saved Withers for the game’s stretch run, and Jae’Lyn responded by fouling Ody Oguama about five times in the first 10 seconds he was back on the floor. One of those clutch and grabs was enough to elicit a whistle, and the big man’s night ended with more fouls than points (4) or rebounds (1).

Mack has talked multiple times this season about Withers’ focus drifting in and out, and never has that been more on display than over the past week. A week ago, Withers went up against arguably the best (and certainly the hottest at the time) big man in the conference in Virginia Tech’s Keve Aluma. He totally outplayed him to the tune of 16 points and 12 rebounds against Aluma’s 3-of-10 shooting from the floor. Last night, against what should have been a much more manageable assignment in Oguama, Withers couldn’t stay on the floor.

Withers being in foul trouble forced Mack into giving big minutes to JJ Traynor, who can do things on offense against just about anyone but who doesn’t have the frame to avoid being bullied in the post by a guy like Oguama on the other end, and Gabe Wiznitzer, who just can’t keep up in a game with the flow of last night’s.

I thought Gabe’s new haircut looked great though.

—It was great to see Charles Minlend in a Cardinal uniform and on the floor for the first time. It was not great to see Charles Minlend passing up a wide open three and getting whipped off the bounce twice in less than a minute of action.

After the game, Mack stressed that it’s still going to be a little while before the rest of us see the Charles Minlend that the staff saw during the early days of practice.

“He’s able to play in games, but I’d be lying if I said he was ready,” Mack said. “This is going from personal experience. I had two ACLs in college, not that anybody cares about my sob story. But when I came back and I was fully released, there’s a part that the coaches just don’t understand. It’s like, you’re trailing on a screen, you just can’t catch up, you’re dragging your leg a little bit. I really felt after three or four games, not to throw my old head coach under the bus, I felt like that was it. I was pegged, like ‘hey listen, he can’t keep up.’ And it was tough. It was the toughest part of my life, to be honest.

“So I pulled Charles aside right after the game, and said, ‘Listen, you’re not ready. But I’m not giving up on you.’ You got to get to the point where you’re not thinking about it, you’re moving just like you did before the injury. I’m not going to judge your performance and your play on where you’re at now, because I know I know what he looked like before the injury. He’s a little cautious, but he’s allowed to do everything and I’m glad I’m gonna give him those minutes. Sometimes he’s gonna sink a little bit before he swims, but that’s why we got other guys on the team. We’ve survived without him this long. I don’t want it to be two or three more months, trust me when I tell you that. But each and every game that goes by, he’ll get more and more comfortable with it.”

—I’m not sure we’ve ever had a broadcast that was heavier on the unintentional innuendo than last night’s.

First, you had the steady stream of Spurtle ads. Next, there was Dan Bonner claiming after Carlik Jones was cramping that trainer Fred Hina was “rubbing him out.” And then when the “squirt” instead of “spurt” talk ramped up midway through the second half, you started wondering whether or not all of this was intentional.

I am a child, I will always be a child, and night’s like Wednesday only exacerbate the problem.

—Since we mentioned the Spurtle ...

It’s been three years, and there’s still nothing that gets Louisville fans going like ads on the ACC Network. I would venture to say that 70 percent of the interactions I had on Twitter last night were in reference to Spurtle, the Ab Coaster or the Irish Peeler.

If you made the move to act on all three, congratulations, your Valentine’s Day shopping is done with a full month to spare. And if you don’t have a Valentine, congratulations, you’re going to be comforted by the fact that you’re a jacked chef by the time the holiday gets here.

—We’ve been doing the “C-A-R-D-S” cheer in front of the baby since pretty much the day we brought her home from the hospital, and it’s always made her smile. Last night, about an hour before tip, she started doing the cheer — complete with (totally incorrect) hand motions — all on her own. She skips the “R” every time, which I’m choosing to take as a sly tip of the cap to Rick Pitino and the other natives of the Northeast who have had an impact on this program. She also pointed to the Cardinal bird on my shirt and said “Cards.” It was a big night.

We’re not losing again.

—Trend to keep an eye on: Last year in CC game previews, every time I highlighted a guy who had the potential to go off against us, that guy went off. This year, every time I’ve done that same thing, the guy has been absolutely terrible.

Shoutout to Ismael Massoud for keeping that mojo rolling.

—I’ll never get over this angle. Can’t do it. Can’t get over it.

Unreal.

—Despite falling behind 5-0 and 7-2, last night marked just the third time this season that Louisville has won the opening segment.

Please direct all credit to my C- “Louisville Slow Startinals” tweet.

—Louisville’s 16-0 run in the first half last night was its largest of the season, topping a 14-0 run in the season-opener against Evansville. The Cards made eight consecutive shots and got points on 10 consecutive possessions during the run.

—CC Podcast prediction for Virginia Tech: 72-70 (actual score, 73-71)

CC Podcast prediction for Wake Forest: 75-64 (actual score, 77-65)

If you’re not listening, you’re missing history. That’s simply a fact.

—Even with a 9-1 start and the program’s first 4-0 start since its dual Big East championship season of 2008-09, I’m still seeing a lot of “are we really that good” self-doubt floating around in the ether. I think we are, and I think we have the chance to get much better, but I can understand the hesitancy given the single top 30 win and the general uncertainty about pretty much everything in college basketball this season.

All I can say is that right now I’m enjoying the hell out of the ride and I’m excited for the latest piece of evidence to be compiled on Saturday night.