On a day when there wasn’t a whole lot of aesthetic, when the U of L Cardinals wouldn’t have had any business singing, “I feel pretty/ Oh so pretty/ That the city should give me its key,” the victors did run one truly beautiful, game-winning play.
In a season when getting the ball in play from out of bounds has been precarious at times, there was at the moment it was necessary, an astutely crafted, adroitly executed inbounds set that allowed the Cards to slip out of Tobacco Road with nailbiting, way closer than it ever should have been 73-68 W in its ACC opener against NC State.
Allow me to set the stage.
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Up 14 at intermission, the Cards had already coughed it up four times by the first media stoppage of the 2d, hitting only one of its first six shots.
Louisville continued to self destruct. Fouling shooters behind the arc. Getting beat easily in the paint. Not showing much precision with its new O, obviously a work still under construction.
The home team finally, inevitably grabbed the advantage with 10:11 left on an easy paint lay in, after yet another U of L giveaway. 52-53. That lead was eventually widened to 5. Twice.
Then U of L steadied, as the Wolfpack thankfully reverted to their norm. Credit is due Louisville’s defense, excellent for the most part. (See below.)
But NC State still led by 4 with 3:02 on the clock, after a threeball. 64-68.
A Cardinal lockdown ensued. It was State’s final tally.
The victory still did not come easy.
Jarrod West twined one of two FTs. 65-68.
During that clock stoppage, Card mentor Chris Mack subbed Noah Locke in for El Ellis.
Intuitive? Lucky? Knowing?
After stopping State again, ending with a tough Matt Cross RB, West found Locke, who appears to be emerging somewhat from a shooting slump, for a quick release long trey. 68 all.
After a timeout, Matt Cross, who was EVERYWHERE, blocked a jumper, which Malik Williams retrieved.
Then came another of those totally static Cardinal possessions. West dribbling too much. Nobody moving for him to move the ball to. Nothing happening which provided anything like a scoring chance.
The Cards called a timeout with :02 on the shot clock, :30 on the game clock.
The Cards were tied to the RR tracks, the train was coming, and it didn’t appear anybody was there to free them. State would surely get the ball with no shot clock to seal the upset.
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OK, back to my lede. Thanks for sticking with me. Got to meet my word count, you know. Try to recreate the situation and suspense.
Sideout Cards in front of the U of L bench, foul line extended plus a few feet. Only time for a catch and fire.
The court is fifty feet wide. I mention this for context on the absolute perfection of Dre Davis’s inbounds bullseye to the far corner, what 60 feet away, perhaps a few more. The pass landed directly in Matt Cross’s shooting position, after he’d feigned a drive to the hoop, then backed behind the arc.
String Music, Raleigh, North Carolina.
U of L 71-68.
A Cardinal stop, and two more West charity tosses completed the scoring.
Louisville held NC State scoreless for the last 3:02, ending the game on a 9-0 run.
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Expositing so much on Cross’s game winning threeball is probably misleading about the Hurricane transfer’s game, guile and grit.
It was far from his only want-it-more moment. There was that aforementioned blocked jumper. Hurling himself on the floor to secure a loose ball preventing a State breakaway. His lock down D which prevented a score before that West FT that pulled Louisville within 3. Or a similar D stop at 62-63. Or his triple on the previous possession that had pulled U of L that close.
The Miami transfer hustles. He moves without the ball. His intensity on D makes up for his only average foot speed. He strives on the glass.
Without Matt Cross, Louisville stands 0-1 in league play.
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Malik Williams (14 pts & 11 rbs), Dre Davis (11 pts & 7rbs) and Jarrod West (5 assist, 5 pts & 4 rbs) were also the deal. As State was finishing its comeback to gain the lead, commentator Debbie Antonelli stated the necessary, “Get Jarrod West in the game.”
Mack did so. The Cards stabilized.
Also to be credited: Noah Locke (4/8 from long range). El Ellis, for mostly staying under control, 11 points, and taking two charges.
Samuell Williamson and Jae’Lyn Withers marked present. No gold stars.
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I’ve talked before about how giving too much weight to +/- stat is fraught with peril. How it can be misleading.
But it must be mentioned to give perspective on just how much Gabe Wiznitzer hurt the Cards Saturday afternoon.
I’ve mentioned before how I don’t quite understand why Chris Mack is so enamored with the reserve. But it’s obvious he is. Wiz, back from injury, has jumped the rotation at the 5.
In only 9:03 of action — And, oh my, didn’t it seem like a lot more — he was -16. No other Card was within a time zone of that negative number.
While Wiznitzer was on the court, I kept thinking of a legal postulation from my law school days. Adverse possession. Simply stated, it’s when a party lives openly on real estate belonging to another for a long period and then can claim legal ownership.
When he was in the game, the Wolfpack owned the paint, scoring trip after trip from point blank range.
The issue really boils down to what his talent level doesn’t allow him to do in Chris Mack’s pack line D. The center has to hedge out on high ball screens and other actions to prevent ball reversal. Then speed back to the paint to cover his man.
The paint was too open too much during his time on the court.
Meanwhile Malik Williams, despite how hobbled he is, finds a way, and was +18.
Roosevelt Wheeler, for some odd reason since State was also young in the middle, saw only 1:45 of action in the 1st. He was +1.
Sidney Curry and JJ Traynor DNP.
I do not like calling out a Cardinal like this. Chris Mack sees something in Wiznitzer that I haven’t . . . yet. My hope is that soon I’ll have to go mea culpa on these comments, to eat these words.
Mack’s explanation for Gabe’s PT:
A few things go into it. First, he was right there as Malik’s backup when he got hurt. Now, having said that, it wasn’t by a wide margin. He had the benefit of experience from his freshman year, that Syd (Sydney Curry) and Rose (Roosevelt Wheeler) didn’t have, and those two made quantum leaps during that time. When Gabe was out, they got through their shot. But we need continual improvement, all of our bigs, and that includes Malik. They’re not where we want them to be, period. The one thing that Gabe brings to the table, is he has a great understanding of screening angles, re-screening, and that frees our guys to get up into the lane. If we get into the crease of the defense, and we make people help, we’re going to be a better offensive team. I’ve talked about that - paint touches. Even though Gabe might not be touching it in the paint, he’s freeing up guys to do so. Rose and Syd hves to get better at that. Now, they’re better finishers than Gabe. Every guy has strengths, every guy has weaknesses. We need those weaknesses getting shored up and improving, and there’s not a whole lot of margin. It could go game-to-game on who’s gonna back up Malik, depending on how well guys are improving, and what the game sort of calls for with the matchup, and how the other team offensively plays and defensively plays.
He’s the coach. But I don’t get it.
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Bottom Line. Conference W on the road. 3-1 during a four game road trip.
An achievement always to be cherished, regardless of the foes.
Next: Cards return home. DePaul.
— c d kaplan