While the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers have gained a reputation as a persistent thorn in the side of many Big East teams, the sixteenth-ranked Louisville Cardinals quickly ended any illustrious thoughts of an upset in Piscataway by jumping ahead to a 20-3 lead early on and coasting the rest of the way to a 55-37 victory. Despite a scoring drought that lasted nine minutes during the second half and an overall ugly shooting performance, the Cardinals’ defense rendered the need for any offense nearly moot. In fact, the Scarlet Knights were only one point away from tying an all-time low in points scored (which came in a 38-36 loss back in 1959). Preston Knowles looked like he would finally shake off the rust, keying Louisville’s early lead with 3 three-pointers, but made only one more basket for the rest of the game (another three). Knowles ended 4-13 for the game (roughly 30%) but continued to contribute in other ways, snagging 8 rebounds and 5 steals. In the world of one-and-dones in college ball, it’s pretty often to see the tag of “senior leader” to be mostly lip-service, but it is obvious that Knowles really is the heart-beat of this team with his ability to contribute to all aspects of the game. His vocal leadership was also extremely noticeable through ESPN’s cameras, thanks to the hear-a-pin-drop silent RAC. I would pay good money for a mic’d up DVD of Preston flipping out, hyping up teammates, and talking junk. Terrence Jennings continued his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act, seemingly responding to Coach Pitino’s criticisms once again with perhaps his best defensive game ever. TJ had five blocks and his presence had Rutgers inside players constantly shifting out of position of peering over their shoulder, leaving them with ugly shots or being prone to turn-overs.
I’d be remiss without mentioning Mike Marra sorta-kinda regaining some of his shooting touch (but only after some horrendous clunkers) and finishing 3-6 from three. Rick has said he’s trying to get Marra to focus on his defense and just let his shot come to him, and hopefully the kid is listening because it seems to have worked (50% of the time, anyway). Still, better than Will Scott, our last proclaimed “deadeye shooter;” and honestly, Marra gets a pass for the season for his three in the double-OT win against UConn. The only worrisome moment of the game came in the second half, when right before an inbounds pass Kyle Kuric accidentally kicked Rakeem Buckles in his calf and Buckles fell to the floor and was slow to get up. Though it would fall perfectly into the line of Louisville’s luck with injuries this year that Buckles would’ve torn his ACL or had to get a hip replacement, he was able to get back up and jog down the court (albeit with a limp). Maybe Kyle spent some time with Cobra Kai on the team’s off days. After yet another successful 2-3 segment for Pitino’s team, the Cards find themselves at 10-5 in the Big East and tied for third with Georgetown. The ever-important double-bye in the Big East tournament is now not only a possibility, but not maintaining a top four spot with only one super-tough matchup (at home vs Pitt) left on the schedule would be a disappointment. So much for that bridge year.
– Andrew Swan, Contributing Writer