This one still stings. And it probably will for a whole week. Unlike the SMU blowout, I wanted UC to play a game quickly to get that taste out of their mouths. This time, however, I'm glad they have a full week off to regroup. If they were playing UCF or one of the bottom 5 I'd be ok with playing quickly. But the fact that UConn is next, I want UC to have some more time to prepare mentally and physically. I know Mick will have these guys ready to play despite the extremely tough loss to Louisville because that's what good coaches do. And UC has done a great job of recovering from tough losses. Thankfully there haven't been many of them.
I'm going to switch things up a little this time. Quite honestly, there wasn't a whole lot to "like" about this game on an individual note. Aside from Sean Kilpatrick willing this team to a near win, no one else did anything especially on the offensive end. So, I'd like to talk about the resolve of this year's team.
Unlike last year's team who was frustrating as all hell, this team simply finds ways to put themselves in a position to win every game no matter who they are playing. Watching that game in person yesterday I marveled at how despite getting virtually NOTHING from anyone besides SK, I walked out of Fifth Third Arena holding my head thinking UC still should have won. How?
I honestly thought Louisville played better defense yesterday. They had more steals (9-3) and most of them lead directly to easy buckets. They had more blocked shots (6-3) and pretty much controlled the lane. If you need statistical proof: 34-14 scoring in the paint. 14-7 scoring off turnovers. 8-0 fast break points. All in favor of Louisville. Montrezl Harrell dominated the paint. How he only had one block is shocking but UC had no answer for him.
UC shot 28% from the field. 25% from three. Turned it over 13 times. Had one person besides SK make more than one basket, that being Justin Jackson who had TWO. Looked completely lost on offense at times, especially in the first half.
So I ask you? How did Louisville not win by 20?
Because this basketball team, while not having a lot of offensive ability, grinds you down to the nub. They scratch and claw and fight (not literally of course) and battle and scrap and you name it. This team has the most heart of any Bearcats team I can recall. Certainly the most of any team under Mick and I thought the sweet 16 team two years ago had a lot of heart. But in my opinion that team had more talent than this year's team, at least for now. When it comes to athleticism I think this team has a lot of it. They're just not polished yet.
At one point yesterday UC was down 21-9 and that was with like 3 minutes left in the half. It was looking pretty ugly. But that quickly turned into a 10-1 run to claw within 3 points at half and you have to believe they went into the lockers feeling pretty good despite how poorly they played. A quick three in the second half actually tied the score and we started over again. Then after turning the ball over 4 times in a row, UC again found itself down 9 and we all were thinking "no way they can come back again, can they"? Well of course they did, because that's what they do: never quit. They even managed to go up by 3 with under 2 minutes left in the game. And the crowd was ROCKING!!!!
Speaking of the crowd. Holy crap what an atmosphere. The crowd was into this game from about 11:30 on. That's 11:30 am of a game that started at noon. Not the 11:30 mark of the first half. The students do take a lot of grief (sometimes deservedly so for not showing up at all) but they were humongous yesterday. From the sea of white to the fat heads (including one with a Hitler mustache on Rick Pitino) they were loud and (IMO equally as important) in unison. While I would argue that no matter where yesterday's game was played - on campus or at a renovated US Bank Arena - the crowd would have been nuts, I will allow for some uncertainty as to the student section at a game off campus. But, again, I have faith that the powers that be would do whatever was needed to get students to the game no matter where it was.
As for the officiating. I couldn't not mention that. As usual it was awful. I think officiating across the board is terrible. Yesterday took the cake. From the double review/reverse to the charge that resulted in Montrezl Harrell shooting a 1-and-1 it was just bad. But, it was bad both ways and it did not cost UC the game. Unless you truly believe officials are on the take, those guys are not biased. They don't root for one side or one coach over the other. They're just bad all the way around. What's the answer? A fourth referee? Wouldn't that result in even more fouls called? I do like it when they "let them play" but at least be consistent. If you're going to allow all the banging in the lane, don't call touch fouls out front. Regardless of the "new rules" this year (than are long gone by the way), the officials aren't consistent at all. OK that's it about this topic. I'd prefer to enjoy today instead of walking around shaking my head. But I'll leave you with these two tweets about the charge/foul shots situation...
Veteran official tells me shooting on player control foul has been off the books for "about 20 years".— Chad Brendel (@ChadBrendel) February 22, 2014
And the review...
And after all that, refs get it wrong. Nice.— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) February 22, 2014
As for Louisville. That's a REALLY good team. Even without Chane Behanan, I think they have a shot to repeat. So, UC won at their place and lost on a last second shot against a team with a chance to win it all. Does that mean UC also has a chance? Why not? Despite their deficiencies, UC can play with anyone. I truly believe that.
But, I am glad this rivalry is taking a pause. Between the football heartbreak, and the two basketball games, I can't take anymore of this stuff. It's ridiculous how tight these games have been. My heart needs a rest. That's obviously tongue-in-cheek. I love this tweet...
Great ending to Louisville Cincinnati. Another ridiculous realignment casualty that they'll stop playing next year.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) February 22, 2014