Sunday, January 18, 2009

Defense Leads to Cards Win

Admit it. You knew the Cards were going to beat PITT all week. You just didn't want to get too cocky before a game with the #1 team in the land. It was apparent the Cards had turned the corner after Monday night's OT period where Louisville blitzed Notre Dame 16-2. PITT is an outstanding team, but the Cards defense and depth was just too much for the Panthers to overcome. PITT is handed their first loss of the season and the Cards sit atop the BIG EAST with rival Marquette. Cards 69 PITT 63

- Pitino might have the best defensive team in the country. The way the pressure rattles the opponents into making mistakes and wears them down is awesome to say the least. On the ball, I think we possibly the two best defensive guards in the country in Jerry Smith and Andre McGee with Knowles a very close third. They make life a living hell for the oppositions back-court and tire them out over the course of the game. The was evident last night as PITT started the game on absolute fire - jumping out to an early 20-7 lead. At the end of the game, the Panthers only made 1 of their last 16 shots. Our defense shadows the fact that our offense really hasn't started clicking on all cylinders yet. The Cards forced the "heady"PITT point-guard Lavance Fields to cough it up 6 times and the panthers were committing fouls on the defensive end because they were tired.

- I'll have to admit I was scared after PITT's blazing start that put them up 13 early. The defense buckled down and the team showed a ton of intestinal fortitude chipping away at the lead. How the Cards shot 10-34 (29%) and still came back to trail only 2 at halftime is amazing and a testament to how good the defense really is. PITT coach Jamie Dixon said his team played well, so it's not like we caught them on an off-night. Very impressed with the heart the Cards showed to stay in the game after the early deficit and finally put one away at the end

- What can you say about T-Will that NBA analysts aren't going to say over the next 10-12 years? He did his usual thing - hit open shots, took over if the offense was stagnant, and grabbed timely rebounds. 20-7-4 for Mr. Williams. I can't believe the Cards out-rebounded the Panthers 42-38 and T-Will only had 7 (ha..only 7). That is proof the team as a whole has improved drastically on the glass. The behind-the-back-okie-doke-to-a-layup-and-one down the middle of the lane was his highlight of the night. Or possibly the weird yet hilarious trend he is starting of giving the ESPN crew daps immediately following the horn - almost like he's lobbying for the postgame interview. Just T-Will being T-Will.

- A lot of UofL fans, including a couple who write for this blog are "T-Will Guys" - meaning they'll stick with him regardless of what happens. Me - I'm an "Earl Clark Guy". And that's no slight to #1, I just think E5's game is very, very special. For every pass he throws away or bad shot he takes, Clark comes back with a facial dunk or shot-clock beating jumper. He had one rebound where it looked like everyone was just watching in admiration as E5 leaped and grabbed a one-handed rebound. Whoever coined the phrase "Big time player, make big time plays in big time games" (I think PrimeTime?) must've had Earl Clark in mind.

- Pitino said it after the game and I said it before the game. Don't bite for Sam Young's shot-fake and good things will happen. Pitino said he worked all week with the guys watching film on the unorthodox move and told the to stand with their hands up "like a statue" when ever he went up. I think Young was getting frustrated because his shooting was off (6-20) and he got into foul trouble. Cards showed a lot of maturity not biting for the fake and it paid off. Oh, and don't act like you haven't seen that dunk Young did in the second half nearly 10 times from T-Will. Only T-Will adds in a scissor-kick.

- Samardo played 31 minutes and only committed 2 fouls which is remarkable considering how physical of a game it was. 10 points, 7 boards, and a perfect 4-4 from the line added with his best passing effort of the year equalled a great game for Mardo. He did an excellent job demanding the ball when Blair picked up his 3rd and 4th fouls and wasn't going to play his normal rough defense. Also, his finesse at the line is a tremendous attribute as he hit 2 huge free throws down the stretch.

- The question mark most-surrounding this team now is: How can Pitino find more playing time for Kyle Kuric? The frosh from Evansville just seems to make things happen every time he's given the chance. Kuric rarely makes mistakes, is deadly from beyond the arch, athletic and a terrific rebounder. In fact, Pitino said after the game last night that "outside of T-Will, minute-for-minute [Kuric] is the best rebounder on the team". It's hard, with the 4 vets we have in the back-court rotation right now, to let Kuric into the mix, but 5-10 spot minutes a game will do nothing but help the team.

- Of course, the 3 losses to lesser opponents hurts us, but I think the Cards are Top-10 (maybe even top-5) worthy again. Still, the only team that scares me is Carolina and we've seen get beaten twice by teams Louisville wouldn't have any trouble beating. It's going to take the pollsters a couple more weeks to get us back up there if we continue this hot streak, but currently the Pomeroy ratings have the Cards ranked #13, #15 and Jeff Sagarin had us ranked 24th before yesterday's win. Flying under the radar has really helped this team get better and stay humbled and it should continue to do so. Beating the #1 team in the country never hurts your NCAA resume.

- By all accounts, the crowd at Freedom Hall was as loud as it has been in a while, but you hear that after most big games. The fans were in their seats 10-15 minutes before the game started and the fans were fired-up and ready to go. on TV, you could see the cameras shaking like they do at Cameron Indoor at certain points of the game. In his postgame comments to ESPN, you could see Pitino kind of look around in awe of the atmosphere with a huge smile on his face. I'm excited about the new Denny Crum Arena, but I have serious doubts that it will be a better place to watch a top-notch game than the Hall.

- How is the most physical team in the conference, maybe even the country, going to feel screwed when the referees finally start calling fouls on them? The BIG EAST is a rough-and-tough conference not meant for the light at heart. 46 fouls were called and the difference was the Cards hit more from the charity stripe. The game was called equally despite what Jamie Dixon insinuated after the game by saying, "We obviously had to battle through some foul difficulties..when it got close, the biggest differential really is the free throws". Now I know that doesn't sound bad, but you could tell Dixon was rather frustrated that his studs (Young, DeJuan Blair) got into foul trouble somewhat early.

That's it for now . More to come later...

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