Last year Louisville fans sent out their old stomping grounds, Freedom Hall, with a bang on senior night by defeating then #1 ranked Syracuse 78-68. It was a bittersweet ending to an era filled with championships and life-long memories. And now, in its inaugural year, their new home has provided a season’s worth of magical memories as well. The 19-point miracle come-back against Marquette, the late game surge to defeat West Virginia, and who can forget the opening win vs Butler. However, last night proved to be the perfect cap to the season as the University said goodbye to its two departing seniors, George Goode and Preston Knowles. And when the night was over, it was a familiar site as Louisville defeated Providence 87-60, in front of a capacity crowd of 22,650. The victory ensured the Cards (23-7, 12-5) of a double-bye in next week’s Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The game didn’t start off the way Louisville fans would have hoped, as the Cardinals struggled to make shots from the perimeter and gave up second-chance points to the Friars. The game went back-and-forth for the majority of the first half before Rick Pitino called a timeout with 7:15 left. The Cards then came back out and ended on a furious rally that would give them the lead at halftime, 45-35. Once the teams re-emerged out of the locker room, it wasn’t long before the game was over. Providence (14-16, 3-14) and lame-duck coach Keno Davis continued to let the pace of the game quicken and Louisville made them pay time after time. It still baffles me how teams and coaches completely abandon the blueprint that some teams laid out earlier in the year to beat the Cardinals. You have no chance unless you slow down the pace of the game and milk the shot-clock, relentlessly attack the rim and get them in foul trouble, and suffocate the three-point line. Providence did NONE of that. Instead, they chose to get a in a track meet with the Cards, and that was a huge mistake. While, it should be noted that Louisville has evolved recently and has a much more balanced inside-outside attack which makes it harder to scout them overall, Providence could have still slowed the tempo and attacked more inside. Much credit also should go to Rick Pitino, who continues his masterful coaching job on the season. He made it clear from the get-go that he was not going to let Marshon Brooks beat him. Pitino constantly sent double teams at Brooks and suffocated him all night. Brooks, who had 27 in their first meeting, finished with just 12 last night.
Kyle Kuric continued his hot streak by leading the game in scoring with 25 points and Preston Knowles finished with his first career double-double with 20 points and 10 boards. Peyton Siva led the attack with another steady hand at the point and is continuously showing his maturity and improvement especially around the high post and off the pick-and-roll. His speed and athleticism are making it harder and harder for opposing guards to stay in front of him. Though he finished with just 5 points, he also had 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals. The trio of Kuric, Knowles, and Siva should start to get real recognition as one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the entire Big East. Since all three can create off the dribble, shoot reasonably well, and defend, they continue to prove why Louisville has one of the more underrated teams in the nation.
So, the first season at the beautiful new KFC Yum! Center is in the books. It was filled with memories and the fans got to watch an unselfish team that was all about the name on the front of the jersey. There’s a lot more basketball to be played as Louisville will end the regular season this Saturday at Noon on the road against West Virginia and then move on to New York for the conference tournament. The Louisville Cardinals have made believers out of us, now it’s time to convince the rest of the nation.
– Brent Lepping