I’m not even sure where to start after watching the Louisville Cardinals completely dismantle Marquette last night, 81-56, in the nightcap game of the Big East Tournament. To me, it was the most complete game Rick Pitino’s team has played all year long. In their first meeting, Louisville was beat on the backboards, allowed too many second-chance opportunities, and let Marquette’s speedy guards sneak into the lane and get easy looks (not to mention a ton of free-throws). Of course, they had a collapse of epic proportions in the second half and Lousiville squeaked out a 1 point win on a last second shot from Kyle Kuric. The Golden Eagles (20-14, 9-9) had revenge on their minds the second time around, but Louisville played a near flawless game and showed why they have become the best defensive team in the league.
Defense. That’s how this team is winning games. Marquette got ZERO easy shots last night as Louisville hedged off ball screens, slapped down at balls off the dribble, deflected countless passes and finished with 7 steals as a team. And there appears to be no weak spots in the defense as a whole. Players like Mike Marra and Kyle Kuric, maybe once considered defensive liabilities, have become reliable defenders, capable of causing havoc against opposing offenses. Add in the fact that both Terrence Jennings and Gorgui Dieng are intimidating shot blockers in the lane, and this team has easily become the most complete defensive unit in the entire Big East conference. Digest this stat: over its last 11 games (against the likes of Georgetown, Uconn, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Marquette, and Pitt) Louisville’s defense is allowing just 59.9 ppg – tops in the conference during that stretch. Furthermore, over the last 7 games against many of those same teams, they’re allowing just 57.8 ppg. Last night they held Marquette to just 29.8% shooting from the floor.
But it’s not just defense that’s allowing the Cardinals to continue winning games. Their unselfish play has led to countless easy looks for a variety of shooters as evidenced last night by 23 assists on 27 field-goals. There were early criticisms of this team that they didn’t have a player who could create his own shot off the dribble. Who needs that when you have 10-12 guys that create other shots for wide-open teammates? Last night the recipient of many of those open looks was Mike Marra, who finished with a career high 6 three-pointers (6-10) and 22 points overall. Preston Knowles added 15 ponts and Terrence Jennings had 12. Louisville finished with13 three-pointers, tied for the most they’ve had in a Big East game this year.
This all sets up a rematch from the Jan 15th OT loss against Notre Dame. In fact, the last two games between these schools have resulted in overtimes (last season Louisville won at home in double-OT). Needless to say, after watching The Irish blow out Cincinnati, Louisville will have to continue its rugged defense as they will attempt to slow down Notre Dame’s efficient offensive attack. Louisville had two attempts to win the previous meeting in regulation, but Preston Knowles missed a pair of off-balanced threes on back-to-back possessions. Notre Dame cruised in overtime, and won convincingly, 89-79. With Marquette out of the picture, now the Cards are the team with revenge on their mind – and they have a chance to play in the Big East Tournament Championship Game for the second time in three years. Tip-off is tonight 30 minutes after the 7:00 Syracuse-Uconn game.