Not to make tooooooooo big a deal about it, but U of L’s post season status was on the line.
During intermission, former FF MOP Luke Hancock had shared some analytics, which, if I remember right, went something like this. With a victory over the Irish, U of L’s chance to Dance remained in the 60th percentile. But, if they lost, that would be cut in half, to 30+% or so.
Read: Tuesday was a must, and the crucial moment came here:
The Cardinals’ once 12 point advantage had been whittled with 6:24 to the final horn to 5 at 56-51.
The Cards were wobbling. Mike Brey saw his chance, took a timeout to set up some D.
Should the Cardinals allow this one slip away, serious hair-pulling, nail-biting consternation in the Ville would ensue.
The Irish were in man, so Chris Mack went to one of his favorite go to sets in such situations. Dre Davis on a post up.
Davis was fouled on the play. No FTs. He got the ball after the clock reset and inbound, but missed a trey. Sam Williamson snared one of his five second half boards, and at the shot clock, Carlik Jones — Indispensible Carlik Jones* — went string music from distance. 59-51.
*Henceforth referred to as ICJ.
After an Irish miss, which Quinn Slazinski rebounded, QS missed a threeball at the offensive end, but Jae’Lyn Withers cleaned the glass, getting it back to an open Slazinski, who netted a deuce. 61-51.
Williamson gobbled up another errant ND attempt, following it with J in the paint. 63-51. (Sam’s become money on those pullups from 12-15 that the new breed of hoops analysticistaticians don’t seem to appreciate anymore.)
The teams traded turnovers. The visitors tallied a dunk. Sam again, pulluup in the paint, bullseye. 65-53.
When it mattered. I mean, really really mattered, Louisville scored on three consecutive possessions, four of five, and held the South Benders to a deuce.
Looking static at times, playing without David Johnson (Out with some non-COVID malaise, “a temperature and achy”), with guys at unfamiliar positions, and the whole gang still suffering PTSD from the Tar Heel shellacking, the Cards rocked steady when it mattered.
* * * * *
Malik Williams, back in the starting lineup, looked a bit more like Malik Williams. Playing 26 minutes, he scored 6, grabbed 10 caroms and handed out 2 assists.
He’s still got away to go. On the 8th trip up and down the 94, on a Louisville possession ending with a Withers two, Williams, winded already, was standing along the baseline, with his hands on his hips, gulping O2.
But his presence is significant. Even if he’s short of game shape.
And, one of the reasons that is noteworthy: It allows Withers to play the 4, where he’s much more comfortable and confident, facing the hoop instead of playing the pivot.
JW dominated early on. He had 8 and 3 at the first media timeout.
Withers obviously still has to play the 5 some. AI is still MIA, and Wiz, fan fave he might be, is not Prime Time. Jae’Lyn crafted another double double. 12 points. 13 rebounds.
So, as loathe as I am to admit it, my pal Doc opined that Withers was a natural 4 way back, early on in the campaign. Thus I noted during that initial media stoppage. Immediately after which, Doc reaffirmed his correctitude, with a text too long to quote.
* * * * *
U of L came out focused.
The Cardinals grabbed two offensive rebounds on three of its first four possessions.
Louisville outboarded the visitors 45-30. And had a hefty advantage in 2d chance points, 18-4.
* * * * *
Because he was U of L’s only available ballhandler, ICJ never sat.
Realizing that was probably going to be necessary, I doubt I was the only one concerned when ICJ committed his first foul just fifty five seconds in.
But it worked out.
* * * * *
Cut off the head, slay the dragon. (Unless it’s one of those mythical monsters with more than a single noggin.)
Notre Dame’s leading scorer Nate Laszewski scored two points. They were FTs. He was ofer 8 from the field.
Which brings us back to Withers at the D end of the hardwood.
According to Coach Chris Mack, Withers “did a great job defensively because he was guarding Nate Laszewski, who is their leading scorer. I know he didn’t play very well, but I thought Jae’Lyn had a lot to do with that.”
* * * * *
Even though Dre Davis hasn’t been one of the stars, he seems to be there for the solid, got to have it play at critical moments.
His 4/11 shooting belies his contribution Tuesday. Solid, relentless D. 11 points, 4 boards and 3 assists.
Quinn Slazinski has turned into Mr. Steady, Mr. Rarely Makes A Wrong Decision.
* * * * *
A word before I go about Charles Minlend.
When I saw the Cards were going to be shorthanded in the backcourt, I was hoping this game might be the one where he was able to break out.
Make a trey or two. Get a follow deuce, maybe a steal and score. Something, anything that might get the SF grad transfer going.
It didn’t happen, and I just feel sorry for the kid. By all accounts, under normal circumstances — absent his lengthy injury and the COVID stuff — he would/ should/ could have been a solid if not spectacular contributor to this edition of the Cards.
Sigh. It just doesn’t appear it’s going to happen. He’s just never found his mojo.
Which makes me sad for him. And for the team, which could use another steady, mature, consistent presence.
* * * * *
U of L’s offensive flow was non existent at times.
U of L missed way too many point blank shots at the rim.
U of L is still reconditioning, after the layoff.
But, in a game the Cardinals absolutely positively without a scintilla of doubt had to win to keep their NCAA hopes alive, they never trailed. Or were tied.
The road ahead is long and winding and perilous.
Trips to Cameron Indoor, Blacksburg, and a visit from the ACC nemesis Wahoos.
— c d kaplan