After a sound defeat of conference rival and top team in the Big East Marquette, Louisville made the trip up to Middlesex, NJ to take on the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. At 12-9 overall and just 3-7 in the conference, no one was expecting much out of Rutgers, but the Big East is still the Big East, and every road game needs to be addressed with 100% focus. There are no gimmies on the road in this league (except maybe DePaul…gonna miss those guys). Rutgers reminded the Cards of that fact early on as they admirably challenged the Cards in the first half to go into the locker room only down 2 points, 28-26. Then Pitino must have had a few words of wisdom for his team, as Louisville came out and just pounded the home team, outscoring them 40-22 in the second half, giving the Cards their third win in a row.
Wayne Blackshear. 19 points in just 14 minutes. Don’t look now, Card fans, but the former McDonald’s All-American may be finally breaking out of his shell. Granted, it was Rutgers and they did not have anyone that could match up with him, but it was by far his best game in a Cardinal uniform. He finished 7-11 from the field and 3-5 from three. He looked good against Marquette, and he looked better vs. Rutgers. He ran the court well, his court vision was great, he got himself open and was not afraid to put the ball on the court and create for himself. If he starts to get things rolling, this team immediately goes from being very good to being great. The worst part of his game? Foul trouble. Had he played at least 20 minutes, he may have put up 25-30 points. If he can bring that type of play every time he steps on the court (and plays more than 14 minutes), this team will be nearly impossible to beat.
Peyton Siva. The senior captain played once again with poise, control and had an admirable overall floor game. He finished with 9 points, 7 assists, just 1 turnover and stayed out of foul trouble. He did a fantastic job facilitating the offense and creating opportunities for his teammates. While his stats may not be Chris Paul-like, he is playing like a true leader, proving he is one of the best point guards and the nation and completely worthy of being a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award.
Kevin Ware. This was a performance that if someone missed the game and only read the box score, they would scratch their head at his inclusion on this list. After all, 7 points and 3 rebounds is nothing to throw a parade over. Yet, those who watched would get it. Post-suspension, he is just playing with a new energy and is starting to have a major impact on the court. Prior to the suspension, he had his share of good moments, but for the most part, he just kind of floated around out there. It was frustrating to see a player as talented as Ware look so uninvolved and bored. Now, he looks like a different player. He is going up strong for rebounds, getting several deflections and frustrating his opponent on defense. Yes, he is hitting a few jump shots and getting to the basket, too, but he is just playing hard out there. He is someone that is not necessarily going to make or break this team, but he is definitely someone who has the ability to make this team better. He looks reborn out there, and if that continues, it is great news for the Cards.
Russ Smith. It was definitely not Russ’s best scoring game, as he only finished with 14. It was not his best shooting game, as he only went 3-11. Part of me wanted to be critical of his poor shot percentage, but that would just be stupid. This is Russ Smith. You just have to take the good with the bad. Furthermore, of those 8 misses, he was sent to the foul line on a few of them, where he went 6 for 6. He also hit both of his threes. What was most impressive about his game, though, was his overall floor game. It was not one of his 9-22, 23 point, 0 assist, 1 rebound-type performances. He only took 11 shots and dished out 4 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds. He scored when he had to, but did not force it, especially in the second half. He was all over the place, and oh yeah, that little coast-to-coast dunk was one of my favorite Russ moments ever. It was glorious. U of L fans apparently were not the only ones impressed, as New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz took the time to get a little polaroid with a few of the guys after the game.
He also took a pick with Russ along with Chane and Dark Slime (whose inclusion made the picture) with a caption referring to the Cards as “the Flyntstones.” If anyone gets that reference please let me know. Went right over my head.
Rumor has it, Cruz will appear at a U of L game, despite having nothing to do with the school, and be honored at halfcourt. Oh wait, on second thought, nothing could be more pathetic and desperate for a program to try and feed off of the recognition of a superstar, despite having nothing to do with the program, for their own benefit. What kind of program would do that??? ***cough, cough***
Chane Behanan. Not a bad game statistic-wise for Chane, who finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds, but he just is not playing up to his potential right now. In his last 5 games, he is just 13 of 31 from the floor for 41.9%. He has scored in double digits only once in that span. That shot percentage would not be such a bad number if he was a backcourt player taking mostly jumpers, but most of his misses are coming from the paint. Several are from point blank range. He is letting smaller, weaker players block him and throw him off balance in the paint. He continues to put the ball on the floor before going up with it, rather than just catching it and putting it in. He has got to get stronger mentally in the paint. Physically, he can take on anybody. It is all in his head and nothing that he cannot change. The bad thing for him is it is not like he has all the time in the world to figure this out. He has Montrezl Harrell breathing down his neck, and Trez is playing awfully good right now.
Playing 2 full halves. Steve Andress of WDRB posed an interesting question after the game. He asked if it was impressive that U of L held Rutgers to just 48 points or was it concerning the Cards only scored 68 points. Truth be told, the halfcourt offense is a bit concerning. This deep into the season, if a team cannot figure out a zone defense, it should concern any fan. Yet, the Cards have found ways to score regardless and with Russ being Russ and Wayne coming right along, the offense is frustrating, but nothing to panic over, either. More concerning is the fact that a team this talented and experienced continues to come out game after game looking so flat. The final score of 68 would look worse if the team played consistent the entire game. Had they played at the same level of effectiveness and intensity in the first half, they could have put 80+ on the board. Against a doormat like Rutgers, it doesn’t really matter how uninspired a team like U of L looks in the first half. As soon as they turn it on, everyone knows they will take control of the game. Against an upper-tier team, it will not be so easy to play catch-up.
The absence of SVT. If I missed something and he is injured, then none of this is relevant. Yet, I have not heard anything to support that, so here goes. No, he is not one of the most talented players on the team, but he is one of the most efficient. He has more than earned his minutes this season, and only getting 5 minutes in mostly mop-up duty is a slap in the face. Giving Luke Hancock so much preferential treatment, especially taking minutes away from Blackshear in the process, while taking away minutes for Van Treese, who has done nothing but produce, makes no sense. He is a good player who has done nothing but help this team. He deserves better than that.
A 20-point road win in which the opponent is held to less than 50 points is nothing to complain about. It was the second blowout win in a row for the Cards, who appear like they are getting back in a groove. The lack of offense from the frontcourt is a bit concerning, but nothing to panic over. The progression of Kevin Ware and Wayne Blackshear is something the Cards are going to need come March and April and something to keep an eye on. The Cards travel to South Bend Saturday as they take on the Irish, who are always tough at home. It is one game the Cards may not be able to afford to come out slow.