NCAA Basketball

College Basketball: Louisville Comes From Behind vs. West Virginia

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Apparently, Louisville and West Virginia are bound by law to have every game go down to the wire.

We all remember the 2005 Regional Final, then there was the Big East tournament game in 2007, and of course, last year’s horrendous officiating in Morgantown. Add tonight’s game to that list.

Down 11 at halftime, the Cards picked up their defense and held West Virginia to 2-18 shooting to start the half as they brought themselves back into the game. With 9:17 left to play, Peyton Siva found Stephan Van Treese for a layup to give Louisville their first lead since it was 14-13.

The two teams went back and forth and as usual, it came down to the final seconds. Siva’s unreal, off the top of the backboard layup with 4.5 seconds left gave the Cards the lead, and after a missed WVU three pointer at the buzzer, the win 55-54.

Quite honestly, if you have told me Louisville would shoot 37.5% from the floor, only 33% from three point range, an embarrassing 50% from the foul line, and get outrebounded, I would bet a fair amount of money they lose by a comfortable margin.

However, a few critical things happened: the Cards started playing defense and Terrence Jennings manned up.

The first half defense by Louisville was pitiful. There was breakdown after breakdown resulting in far too many open looks. They allowed Joe Mazzulla to reach his career high in points in the first half, mostly due to fundamental breakdowns. Louisville gave Mazzulla his left, which is where he goes somewhere around 100% of the time, and once again, fell victim to ball fakes.

Then, the times they actually played some decent defense, they gave up multiple chances due to awful rebounding. After the first half, Huggy Bear’s boys had a 21-12 advantage on the backboards. You knew if Louisville didn’t get active on the glass, they would get run out of their own gym.

Enter Terrence Jennings.

Pressed into action after Gorgui Dieng landed on his head and suffered a concussion, TJ found the assertiveness he discovered against Marquette and went to work on the glass. TJ grabbed 9 rebounds, including 4 big offensive boards, and was a large factor in the victory. After watching Terrence tonight, I have a new working theory as to what the issue is with him.

I now believe when Terrence knows he isn’t coming out and knows it’s up to him, he actually gets things done. Think back to the Marquette game. Gorgui fouls out, TJ enters, knowing he’s the one going to the finish line. Tonight, same deal. Gorgui goes down, Terrence knows it’s up to him, so he turns into an ultra-active, borderline aggressive rebounder.

Again, it’s just my new theory. TJ will probably do something on Saturday to alter it, but at least for the next few days, that’s what I’m going with.

Quick thoughts:

-As big as TJ was, the diminutive Russ Smith was just as big. The maybe 5-11 freshman only played 9 minutes and his numbers don’t look great. He scored 3 points on 1-7 shooting, had 2 rebounds, a steal, and a turnover, but he brought energy and from where I sat, bothered the West Virginia ball handlers with his defense.

Russ is still not in great shape and has a lot to work on, but he provided a spark tonight. If he can continue to be a spark, he’ll help this team a great deal.

-The reason Russ saw as much action as he did was because Elisha Justice was extremely timid. After the game, Rick Pitino likened the Bullet to Louisville legend Larry O’Bannon in that both will take time to develop. I’m okay with that.

-Chris Smith turned in another solid performance. The one we call the Truth finished with 15 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. For a guy who Rick Pitino thought was a manager when he first showed up on campus, Smith sure is a heck of a player. Where would this team be without him?

-Tonight also solidified my admiration for Bob Huggins. Huggy Bear is so entertaining, I could probably watch him the entire game. The guy goes from joking around with the Louisville coaches prior to the game to furious at his players for giving up a wide open three to enraged at the officials, who were awful. Love that guy.

-Speaking of the officials, tonight’s game also solidified my hatred of Jim Burr. This idiot issued a technical to Huggy Bear in a situation that didn’t involve him. For those who missed it, referee Wally Rutecki allowed some rough play to occur right in front of the WVU bench in which Huggy Bear thought a foul on Louisville was warranted.

I think Huggins was right and a foul should have been called. In any event, Huggins let loose on Rutecki, who was walking away. That’s when Jim Burr decided it was his moment. Burr comes running in from across the floor to T up Huggins, which did nothing but escalate the situation. Huggy became more incensed and nearly got himself ejected, which would have been a shame for everyone.

I cannot stand Jim Burr, much less looking at him for over two hours. I’m embarrassed I spend so much time talking about him, but I have to vent somehow.

Despite Jim Burr’s best efforts to ruin my night, it didn’t work because the Cards notched their 16th win of the season to improve to 16-4 and 5-2 in Big East play. They face an extremely tough contest Saturday at noon as they travel to Storrs to take on Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies.

We’ll preview that game in a few days.