The game was almost a microcosm of the entire season for the Cardinals, containing all the elements that have basically become trademarks of this year’s squad: Suffocating defense, an indomitable will and desire to win, contributions from the unlikeliest places, a bizarre technical, and, unfortunately, a heart-breaking injury.
What should have been cause for the biggest celebration of the year, and the best evidence yet that yes, these Cardinals are for real and not just a fluke, was marred with the news that forward Rakeem Buckles is now out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL. A horrible blow for the team, as Buckles was finally starting to get back into his offensive groove and reasserting himself as a presence on the boards. Presumably this means a return to the smaller four-guard lineup with Kuric spending more time at power forward and more playing time for Van Treese; not ideal, but if you’re looking for a silver lining, I guess you could say that the Cards have been used to playing that way almost all season. Rak’s due to be in surgery within a few weeks, so keep the kid in your thoughts and/or prayers.
Just like the Rutger’s game, the offensive stat lines are pretty horrendous to look at: 8-30 from three, 22-64 from the field. However, even with Buckles only clocking three minutes, the Cards virtually tied Pittsburgh on the boards, with their 36 total rebounds only one less than Pitt’s 37. It cannot be understated how huge that stat is for this team, who has been perpetually out-rebounded in most of their losses (and heck, even some of their wins; see: double OT vs. UConn). Kuric led the team in boards, wading in amongst Pittsburgh’s bigs to snag seven rebounds. Not too shabby against a team that was second in the country in rebounding margin heading into yesterday’s game.
For the second straight game, Mike Marra shows up in a big way. Though his shooting was as pedestrian as the rest of the team’s (a 3-8 performance from behind the line for everyone’s favorite tattooed sharp-shooter), Pitino credited him as being the team’s most “cerebral” defender, and the threes he DID make were big in either establishing momentum for Louisville or stopping the Panthers from gaining any. Mike did take a couple of shots where it probably would’ve been better for him to go for the extra pass, but he did have a sick assist off of a shot fake that led to a fast-ball that hit a cutting Van Treese in the post. Hopefully it’ll continue to click for Mike, as he will be logging many more minutes with Buckles done for the year.
Let me remind all Cards fans of this happy thought: Brad Wannamaker is finally a senior. Though Gibbs may get more press for his offensive game, Wannamaker is the engine that makes the Panthers go. While Gibbs was thinking of butt-hurt remarks to put on his Twitter after the game, Wannamaker was basically willing the Panthers to victory on his own, making two game-tying jumpers at the close of the second half and blocking Kuric’s attempt to win the game in regulation.
In case you didn’t see it, here was Ashton Gibb’s first tweet after the game: “No way we shouldve lost to them bums smh” (PS: SMH=Shaking my head). He of course back-tracked quickly and apologized for offending anyone, and as of this morning the tweet has been deleted from his account. You know, Gibbs, you probably wouldn’t have lost to “us bums” if your last points hadn’t have come at the 14:10 mark in the second half (excepting the bizarre technical free-throws).
So, the technical. Easily one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen on a basketball court. I kind of feel bad for the dude; it’s rough enough to be a male cheerleader, but now he’s the male cheerleader that could’ve cost Louisville a victory over a top-5 opponent and a chance at a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. Yeah, it was stupid, but let’s not make this kid into our own River City Steve Bartman.
Senior night against Providence and a road game at Couch-Burners University are all that remain, and winning at least one of those games will knot up a double-bye for the Cardinals. What a year.
– Andrew Swan, Contributing Writer