The Louisville men’s basketball team that Cardinal fans watched demolish Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night didn’t much resemble the team that lost at home to Furman, and more recently, needed some last minute heroics to squeak out a victory over winless Detroit Mercy.
According to junior forward Samuell Williamson, who led Louisville with 15 points on Thursday, the players took it upon themselves to make sure the product on the floor this weekend was a level up from where it’s been for the first two weeks of the season.
“We had a meeting Monday night, players only,” Williamson said. “We kind of just hashed everything out for about an hour and a half. We all just told each other what we need to do better, on and off the court from an energy standpoint, on the bench, a lot of different things. Defensively, our identity is gonna be on the defensive end this year. Like I said, I feel like at times tonight, we showed flashes of what we’re capable of.”
The superior defensive effort was on full display in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship semifinal win.
The Cardinals limited a Mississippi State team that had been shooting 45.7 percent from three as a team to a woeful 1-for-15 performance from beyond the arc. They also showed superior toughness on the glass, winning the rebounding battle by nine and holding one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country to just 10 second chance opportunities.
Louisville’s superior effort and toughness was noted by Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland, who was disappointed that his team couldn’t match U of L in the area of intangibles.
“They came out and really out-physicaled us early in the game with their defense and made it very hard for us to handle their pressure and their physicality,” Howland said. “We’ve got to learn from this and be more physical and be tougher.”
The difference in Louisville’s focus and energy was noticeable right from the opening tip, even to fans watching on TV from 1,000 miles away.
According to Williamson, the difference was on full display well before the ball was jumped.
“I feel like we had one of our best shootarounds - probably the best shootaround since I’ve been here,” Williamson said. “We got a lot of shots up, energy was great all around the team and everything. We had a great warm up. It was different having a game right before, and only having a 25-30 minute window to get loose and some shots up, but I did feel good coming in.”
The task now for Louisville, which faces Maryland Saturday morning at 10 a.m. for the tournament championship, is making sure that the focus and energy level that everyone saw Thursday night is the focus and energy level that everyone sees for the rest of the season.
“I know I keep saying this, but we saw what we’re capable at times tonight,” Williamson said. “I don’t mean to be repetitive or whatever, but we’ve just got to have that in the back of our mind as a defensive-first team. Our defense is going to feed into our offense, and I feel like we can beat anybody that’s on our schedule.”