Photo – Hartford Courant
Ya know, the beautiful part about this team is that for whatever reason, I just don’t worry or get scared. They got beat up pretty badly in that first half last night and went into halftime down 6 points. UConn had the crowd behind them, were making all the shots and had seized most of the momentum. But I didn’t even bat an eyelash. And judging by my Twitter feed, most other fans felt the exact same way. Why? Because this Louisville team is good. Like, really good. And they have incredible depth that provides them the ability to get stronger as the game goes on, whereas other teams begin to fade. I knew UConn couldn’t and wouldn’t shoot 50% for the whole game. I knew our most important player (Peyton Siva) would return after getting two quick fouls and missing almost the entire first half. I knew the Cards would wear them down and have their way late in the second half. And they didn’t let me down. Once Siva came back on the floor after halftime, it was lights out for the Huskies. Louisville punished them from the first possession all the way until the final buzzer sounded. This team is special, and if they stay healthy, I think that current #1 ranking might show up next to their name in early April – when it really matters.
- Things I learned last night: Okay, well actually it’s more of just a “thing” – singular. There is absolutely, positively no doubt in my mind who the most important player on this team is. And it’s not Russ Smith or Gorgui Dieng. It’s Peyton Siva and if you need further proof, go re-watch the first half of last night’s game. The two quick fouls were awful and he could have avoided both, but it might have provided a valuable lesson to the senior. Without him on the floor, the offense goes completely one-dimensional and it’s all a bunch of high screen Russdiculous one-on-one bullsh*t. There’s not even a remote semblance of an offense being run. The ball stopped going into the post (despite a glaring talent advantage on the blocks), really nobody else other than Russ was even attempting shots, and the team let UConn dictate what happened in transition. It was ugly. And luckily Russ was hitting some of his shots, otherwise who knows how many we go down by at halftime. But back to Peyton……He finished with 11 points (5-7 shooting), 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals. All basically in one half of action. And more than the actual numbers reflect, his influence and presence was everywhere, particularly on the defensive end. With both he and Russ in the backcourt together, it’s a thing of beauty. Their speed is unrivaled, and when they can set up in that full court press, it just gasses the opposing guards and forces them to turn the ball over. We go as Peyton goes. And people always ask “what is this team’s weakness, or where are they vulnerable?” The only thing I can come up with is Peyton Siva in foul trouble late in the game. Because if he’s in there, the Cards are clearly the best team in the nation.
- Russ, Russ, Russ. Where do I even start? I mean, that first half……wow. I’ll give it to him, his ability to score around the rim and get under, over, across or through bigger defenders is a thing of beauty. But the problem is, it often comes at the expense of the team and a tangible offense. When Peyton went to the bench in the first half in foul trouble, Russ became the primary ball handler. Which means he also became the primary shooter and primary everything else. Russ had that ridiculous start to the game, then he tried to force the issue on a few possessions and ended up with costly back-to-back turnovers, etc. Classic Russ where he makes an amazing play on one possession, then rips your heart out on the next. But once Peyton came back into the game, he turned back into a more consistent version of “Good Russ.” He passed the ball more, played better defense and took far fewer bad shots. He ended up with 23 points, but it took 20 shots to get there and he only netted one assist. At this point, we know what we’re getting from Russ, but it ‘s still hard to swallow at times. One of a kind, for sure.
- Louisville outrebounded UConn 33 to 25 and a big reason was because of Gorgui Dieng. He missed a few bunnies underneath and probably should have notched his 4th straight double-double, but I’ll take his 6 point, 16 rebound effort any day of the week. He dominated the glass and cleaned up misses on both the offensive and defensive sides all night long. He only had 2 blocked shots, but he changed or altered somewhere in the neighborhood of 14-15 others. Since Big East play started, Dieng is averaging 11.2 points per game and 14.2 rebounds per game. Siva is the one that makes this team go out front and in the press, but Dieng is the anchor and now he’s playing like the best center in the conference (and one of the very best in the nation).
- Huge game – again – from Chane Behanan, too. He uncharacteristically missed two dunks, otherwise he puts together one of his top 2-3 statistical outputs on the year. As it is, he still ended up with 16 pts, 9 rebounds and 5 assists – all while playing with a high ankle sprain. He was efficient as well, going 7-11 from the field. A very underrated aspect of Behanan’s game is his passing, which was on display last night. He’s outstanding at feeding the post from that spot near the top of the key. Team’s have to come out and guard him because he can stick that 15-footer, but when they do, it leaves Dieng open or with a one-on-one situation on the block (always a high percentage opportunity, offensively speaking). A light has gone on for Chane since the Bahamas Tournament and he’s looked outstanding during the Cards’ 11 game winning streak.
- Louisville has dominated all four Big East opponents they’ve faced, with a margin-of-victory right at 16 points. They’ve beaten every Big East team they’ve played so far by a minimum of 15 points. Rick Pitino keeps talking about wanting this team to have that killer instinct like his 96′ Kentucky team had. Well, we’ll know a lot more after Saturday’s match-up with Syracuse, but right now they’re winning and winning really BIG.
- Kevin Ware smiled during the 12 minute timeout. I swear.
- Cards ends up shooting 50% from the field (29-58) and after allowing the Huskies to shoot 53% in the first half, end up holding them to just 39% (21-53) for the whole game. Again, teams will get unconscious and hit crazy shots from time to time, but they can’t sustain it for 40 minutes against this Louisville team. You knew the Huskies would wear down and that their legs would betray them eventually. And that’s exactly what happened.
- If you connect the eyebrows and give him 8 inches, who does Kevin Ollie look like / remind you of? Google it.
- All in all, that was a really nice win for Louisville. Lost in a lot of the pre-game hoopla was the fact that the team couldn’t travel the night before due to heavy fog in the Hartford area. They arrived around 2:00 EST yesterday, didn’t do a shootaround, got down by as many as 10 points in the first half and were able to overcome a hyped-up UConn crowd that smelled blood. Credit to the staff and players for weathering the storm and playing all 40 minutes.