The Louisville men’s basketball team came to the Bahamas this week a struggling team in search of an identity. They’re returning to the Derby City with two impressive neutral court victories over two solid teams, and a championship trophy.
And now they’re getting their head coach back.
The Cardinals rode a tremendous effort both on defense and the glass to a 63-55 win over Maryland in the title game of the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship. The victory marked the 32nd regular season tournament championship in U of L basketball history.
It was game of runs for a pair of teams who both struggled on offense for lengthy stretches Saturday morning.
Louisville appeared to be in complete control midway through the first half, owning an 8-point lead with a little under 13 minutes to play. Matt Cross then missed a layup and Maryland’s Donta Scott buried a three-pointer on the other end, a five point swing that sparked a 13-0 Terrapin run.
After going nearly eight minutes without a field goal, the Cardinals answered the bell. Noah Locke hit a tough jumper, and then after a brilliant steal from Malik Williams, Matt Cross buried a three in transition to even the score at 47.
From that point forward, it was Jarrod West’s game.
The graduate transfer point guard from Marshall took over on both ends of the floor, scoring seven straight points by himself to fuel a 14-4 Louisville run that allowed the Cardinals to regain control. Some clutch free-throw shooting (and rebounding) from Williams down the stretch allowed U of L to seal the deal.
Williams finished with team highs in both points (13) and rebounds (12), and also chipped in four steals for good measure. Locke (11) was the only other Cardinal to score in double figures, but West finished with nine points and six assists, while Jae’Lyn Withers added 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
I don’t know if was the water slides, the players only meeting or just the same Bahamas magic that the Cards found in 2011 and 2012, but Louisville was a different team in these two games. It wasn’t always a work of art, but if it can bottle up this level of enthusiasm, toughness and effort and bring it back home, this Cardinal can be something.
If they do wind up having a successful season, it’s not hard to see this being a situation where we all look back and say that this week in the Bahamas changed everything for this Cardinal team.
And finally, a tip of the cap to Mike Pegues and everyone associated with Louisville basketball for finding a way to 5-1 this month. I think we all would have signed up for that record before the season started, especially if it was going to include a pair of neutral court wins over potential NCAA tournament teams. This was a hell of a job by everyone.
Now let’s roll.