With 4:38 to go in the 1st against formidable Florida State, in what was to become U of L’s second punking in a row, the Cardinals’ entire season was on the brink.
They were down 24, and ESPN was showing graphics of Louisville’s worst halftime deficit on record, minus 20 against Charlotte in Denny Crum’s final season, when the fraying program burst its seams. The Cards fell that February night of 2001 by 34, 72-106.
Had last night’s eventual 13 point setback gone in that direction, fever dreams would have ensued.
Is XXX going to transfer? Has Mack lost the team? Will XXX sit out the rest of the season because of COVID, or to prepare for the pros? I heard so and so is sleeping his roommate’s GF? The guy at my gas station, whose cousin lives in the dorm, tells me XXX is smoking pot.
It was, let’s be honest, a seriously bracing moment, especially in the context of Saturday’s lay down in Coral Gables. Scary.
More than a few Cardinal fans went to the dark place.
* * * * *
The micro view is: Matters settled a bit.
Florida State, longer, taller, more talented — simply better than Louisville — cooled down. Thankfully.
8/12 from beyond the arc to that 4:38 juncture, the Seminoles netted but one of nine treys the rest of the way. Having already blocked three Cardinal FG attempts, they only swatted away two more.
And, more important for the psyche of Louisville, the Cardinals struck back.
With Jae’Lyn Withers doing a majority of the damage, during Louisville’s 12-2 run to intermission. A follow of his own shot for two, and three more deuces. Plus a couple rebounds.
David Johnson scored the other four in that run, and he also snared several boards.
Louisville’s best sequence of the game, the one showing what they can do when they bust their butts, the one showing what this conglomeration of Cardinals must do to fashion any manner of success going forward, ended with a DJ deuce at 1:36 to pull the Cards within 16.
Johnson missed a threeball. Withers fought for and secured the carom. Quinn Slazinski couldn’t connect on a three. Johnson fought for and secured the errant attempt. Carlik Jones missed on a jumper. Johnson seized the miss. And finally finished on the follow.
Though it was still 26-42, it was a fourth chance score and the fight was on.
The +10 flurry cut the disadvantage to 14 at halftime.
Far from optimal.
But far from needing to call in a psychotherapist and/or embalmer at halftime.
* * * * *
Louisville bested the victor by a digit in the second.
Hope for a total comeback sprang forth — momentarily — midway through the 2d. Coming out of a media timeout at 11:41, Jones drained two FTs. U of L pressed on the inbounds, forcing a 5 second call.
Josh Nickelberry missed a three. Sam Williamson, fighting for the board, was fouled. Cardinal ball. Withers scored in the paint on U of L’s inbounds play, and was fouled, converting the +1.
Louisville had pulled within single digits, 49-57.
Then, in what arguably could be considered a key sequence — but not really, Florida State was never truly in peril of losing — Jones stripped M.J. Walker, and Louisville was fastbreaking to close the gap even more.
But Jones was pickpocketed on the runout, and the Seminoles dunked at the other end. A couple more Cardinal giveaways, a couple more Cardinal misses and Florida State was out of danger.
* * * * *
The reality is this Florida State team is simply better than Louisville.
The reality is this Florida State team is much deeper than Louisville.
Monday’s most significant stat is Bench Points.
Seminoles, 29. Louisville, 7.
The reality is, at this time, Florida State has a better program than Louisville.
Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles have bested the Cardinals in five of the last six, and six of the last eight times the ACC foes have met.
* * * * *
Louisville, picked to finish 5th in the league, is playing with a short deck.
Part of that is circumstance.
Malik Williams is still aways away from taking the court.
Charles Minlend, a total unknown for the Cards, is obviously not ready. Again a DNP, though available.
Not that either are saviors in the classic sense.
Part of it is team structure.
U of L is two guards short. U of L has no strong inside presence. Several guys are playing out of position. The team is young, and the immaturity is often on display.
A few Cardinals haven’t improved as much as expected.
There’s only one Cardinal who can consistently score off the bounce.
The offensive schemes seem somewhat rote, and avoid setting some fellows up for shots in their comfort zone. (I’d love to see Louisville run something other than the pick and roll, but that’s just me.)
But you will not hear here that the sky is falling.
There were some positive signs late in Monday’s loss.
Williamson fought for and captured two missed Cardinal FTs in the late going. And deftly took a charge.
Slaz was the only Cardinal with a positive +/- at +9.
Most important, facing a moment when the whole season could have fallen apart, Louisville mustered some fight.
— c d kaplan