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Extended Thoughts: Louisville 74, Georgia Tech 58

We love you, Josh. Kind of.

Georgia Tech v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I think Monday may have been the most collectively pessimistic I’ve ever seen the Louisville fan base going into a non-Kentucky game the Cards were favored to win.

Clearly, this needs to happen much more often. Winning a game by 16 over a talented team you don’t matchup particularly well against, and which is coming off its most impressive performance of the season is ... well, it’s cool.

More Monday matinees. All about the Monday matinees.

—To me, it seemed like Louisville played every bit as hard on Monday as they did against Clemson, they defended about as well as they did against Clemson, they struggled around the rim just as much as they did against Clemson, and their halfcourt offense generated the same quality of outside looks they got against Clemson. The difference between this game and the Clemson game? The Cards made more shots. Those made shots kept them from playing behind, and when they built a moderate lead, an exhausted Georgia Tech team pretty much folded its tent.

Making shots is cool. You gotta make shots. That’s the point I’m trying to make here.

—There’s nothing I can say about Samuell Williamson’s performance that hasn’t already been said or written somewhere else.

I noted a couple of times last week that Sam had quietly been pretty good off the bench the last two games, and that he was our best player in the loss to Clemson. None of that would have led me to believe that he was capable of morphing into some Rodman/Barkley hybrid on Monday.

We’ve been saying it here since November: Focus on rebounding, defense, and winning hustle plays, and everything else will fall into place. That certainly appears to be happening with Sophomore Sam.

I also have to note that near the end of the game, no one was more aware that Sam was on 20/20 watch than Sam himself. My man was hellbent on getting that last bucket to get him to 20, and then had the eagerness of a kid just released to recess every time a shot went up in the closing minutes. Hey, he earned that.

Now, we’re going to need Sam to be every bit as aggressive and every bit as lethal with his midrange jumper Wednesday night at Syracuse.

—Just a tough, tough day for Bill Bunton.

Bill’s days of enjoying a glass of champagne after every game where a Cardinal reserve failed to haul down 17 boards have come to an end.

In all seriousness, 18 rebounds in a single game is an accomplishment Sam should be unbelievably proud of. Heading into the season I probably would have said that it’d be more likely for Williamson to go an entire month without getting 18 rebounds than it would be for him to pull down 18 in a single game.

—Carlik Jones was just 5-of-17 from the field, and for the first time in a non-”takeover” situation, I thought his shot selection was pretty poor. Of course, he made up for that by finishing with eight of his team’s 13 assists.

Even when he misses, he doesn’t miss.

—David Johnson burying semi-contested threes changes everything about Louisville’s offense. We’ve seen that firsthand multiple times this season, including on Monday afternoon. That said, I’m glad Chris Mack spent most of his postgame comments on Johnson talking about his defense.

A little over a week after he drew praise for slowing down the much taller Matthew Hurt, Johnson did the best job any ACC defender has done so far on the much smaller Jose Alvarado. We all knew he had the size and the athleticism to be a pro, but now he’s defending and shooting the three like a pro.

Enjoy watching DJ for the next couple of months, because that’s as long as we’re going to get with the young man.

—Games against Josh Pastner are where this fan base thrives.

Love the guy.

Only when he’s losing to us.

—I’m finding it increasingly difficult to focus on anything other than Gabe Wiznitzer whenever the Big Whiz is on the floor.

The young man’s game at the moment could best be characterized as “bulldozer perpetually skidding on ice and plowing into anything that happens to be in its way.” It works pretty well in a game where the officials are letting the kids play (we beat the absolute hell out of Moses Wright down low on Monday). Not so much when the whistle is being blown more liberally.

Wiznitzer is clearly a project, but his combination of height and broadness (purposefully avoided “thickness” here) is something that Jae’Lyn Withers and JJ Traynor simply don’t possess right now. In a game like Monday’s where Georgia Tech has only one post player but that one post player is just bigger and more talented than our two primary fives, Wiznitzer can be an asset, and he showcased that for 16 minutes.

Also, just look at this man move.

A combination of strength, speed and grace typically reserved for the first Saturday in May around these parts.

This is Gabe’s conference.

—I’m not sure why Pastner went away from it for most of the second half, but Louisville didn’t look especially comfortable against the 1-3-1 zone Georgia Tech threw at it early in the game. The Cards’ biggest issue against zones so far this season is that they don’t do anything fast enough. They don’t move the ball fast enough, they don’t take the open shot from the outside fast enough, and they don’t go up when they have an opening around the rim fast enough. The result? Shot clock violations, low percentage desperation heaves at the end of the shot clock, and way too many blocked shots and botched opportunities around the rim.

I feel fairly confident they’ll be seeing more zone Wednesday night.

—Outside of knocking down open shots, the other major difference between this Louisville performance and other recent U of L performances was how well the Cardinals took care of the ball. Against a Georgia Tech team that entered the day leading the ACC in steals and turnovers forced in conference games, Louisville gave the ball away just nine times, and only five of those came off steals.

Tech really, really wanted to push pace, and Louisville not committing live ball turnovers and taking (and making) quality shots kept that from happening for the most part.

—I’ve watched this 20 times.

A few things here:

1) Shockingly, this is a completely legal play. In the NBA, this would have been two walks. In high school and college, you can’t catch your own air ball, but if you simply lose control of the ball on your way up for a shot, you are allowed to come down with the ball and retain possession.

2) I think this is the third or fourth time this season Gabe has accidentally defended one of his own teammates. I couldn’t love him more.

3) Props to Sam for composing himself after such a chaotic play and knocking down a smooth baseline jumper like it was nothing. I would have thrown the ball into the third row in a panic.

—A few game notes from Josh Mark’s stat tracker:

- Offense looked different than it did vs Clemson. How do I know? 42% of shots vs Clemson were 3’s, compared to only 26% today (second lowest of Season, HALL 24%)

- Highest usage rate of the season for DJ, 28% (rightfully so)

- Despite playing well, the Cards had their lowest FT Rate of the season (24%)

- Huge segment coming out of the under16 timeout in 2H. +12!!!!!

—Here’s the segment by segment breakdown from the game:

—Moses Wright finished with seven blocked shots, but it felt a lot closer to 30. It was like our guards kept expecting the ball to go through him, and our bigs kept expecting Wright to disappear when he was behind them.

That guy is really, really good.

—I’ve seen some coaches play up the lack of rest in situations like Georgia Tech’s on Monday and others claim it’s not as much of a factor as the outside world would like to believe. I can’t say for sure what the Yellow Jackets’ collective stamina level was on Monday afternoon, but they sure looked like a team that was totally gassed about two minutes into the second half. How much of that was the travel and the emotion of the Florida State win, and how much of it was just due to the fact that they weren’t playing particularly well? It’s impossible to know, but Louisville is going to find itself in a nearly identical spot on Wednesday night.

—Going 0-3 this week is something that would have absolutely tanked this entire season, so it’s nice to get that first win out of the way. Now the question becomes just how good are we going to be feeling about ourselves a week from now.

Lose both of these games, and I think we’re pretty much back to where we were when the week began. Split them, and you’re feeling pretty good about continuing to improve for the rest of the month and then taking your best shot in March. Win both, and we’re all thinking super cool thoughts again.

The ride continues Wednesday night.