I must apologize for the delay in this post. Normally, I provide a brief post with my initial reaction right after the game ends, then post a more full article later after re-watching the game. I would like to say I had problems with my DVR or it was someone else’s fault for the delay, but quite frankly, I was just extremely lazy.
However, the laziness is gone, so let’s talk about that big win Saturday by the Cardinals.
First, the atmosphere in the KFC Yum! Center was electric. Whether it was because the crowd knew UNLV was a very good team, or the fact the Cards weren’t playing a game in which the outcome was decided after a few minutes, or a combination of both, the crowd was great all game. The atmosphere was very reminiscent of a conference game against a Syracuse or Villanova. I can’t imagine what it will be like when the Cats come to town.
In terms of the play on the court, there was a ton to like. I personally loved seeing the team play continue. It’s very easy to move the ball crisply and run your offense well against a team that offers little resistance. However, against a UNLV, a team that is very tough defensively and won’t let you run your offense, I was curious as to how the Cards would fare on the offensive end.
In that regard, the Cards were tremendous.
Louisville did exactly what they had been doing all year. They shared the ball, had good spacing, and I thought took very good shots the entire game. Even in the first half when the Cards, specifically Mike Marra, were missing everything, the shots were still good shots, they were just missing them. The same goes for the second half when UNLV went on a little run and pushed their lead to nine points. If the Cards continue to have the vast majority of their attempts be good ones, I think they will win a lot of games.
One of the main reasons Louisville took a lot of good shots was a result of the play of Peyton Siva. The sophomore point guard had one of his better games as a Cardinal and it could have been a lot better had he not fouled out as a result of more silly, pointless fouls. Siva finished with 9 points and 7 assists, along with 2 rebounds.
Even though he did have 5 turnovers, Siva played under control and did what I, and many others, have been clamoring for him to do: make the simple play. Against the Runnin’ Rebels, Peyton got in the lane consistently and looked to kick it out to his shooters. Specifically, the corner was wide open all day and when Peyton got in the middle, he found the guys in the corner. The Cards, specifically Kyle Kuric, took advantage.
Speaking of Kuric, how nice was it to see him re-emerge? Up until this past Saturday, it seemed Kyle had reverted back to his offensive shell he spent most of his career in, but he certainly busted out of it. He scored 17 points on the strength of 5-8 shooting from beyond the arc and every one of his shots were good ones.
The thing I liked about Kyle’s performance was the fact he did not hesitate to shoot. Kyle camped out at the three point line in the corner and was ready to pull the trigger when he got the ball. He needs to do that consistently and without question has the ability to do so.
As good as Kyle was, the stars of the day were Chris Smith and Preston Knowles.
Chris Smith was a guy who was an unknown quantity heading into the year. Through the first several games of the year, the jury was still sorta out on him. On Saturday, Chris burst onto the scene in a big way with 17 points, but it was the other things he did that were impressive. He buried open looks, got in the paint and grabbed 6 boards, and was extremely active defensively with 2 steals and 2 blocks. As Rick Pitino said afterwards, he did everything.
While Chris Smith did everything, Preston Knowles did one thing and that was win the game for Louisville. Much of the discussion about this Cardinal team revolved around who would be the guy to put the team on his back and score in a close game. If Saturday was any indication, it’s going to be Preston.
Knowles can be frustrating at times. He gets into a funk sometimes of trying to score 30 points and take a bunch of shots, many of which tend to be poor shots. However, the thing with Preston is he is one of the few guys on the team that can get his own shot when he needs to. Also, when he gets hot, he can make it from anywhere, challenged shot or not. When he’s in that mode, just give him the ball and let him go.
It happened Saturday and Preston carried the Cards to a big win.
I don’t want to act like this is a program changing win, but this is a legitimate win that goes on the Cards’ NCAA Tournament resume and will stay there. UNLV will be a top 20- 25 team at season’s end and this is a very solid non-conference win.
As a result of the win, the Cards have answered a bunch of questions about themselves and I think changed the perception of this team. The only thing left to see with this group is how they handle a road game. They will get their chance in ten days when they travel to Western Kentucky. It should be a raucous atmosphere in Diddle Arena on December 22.
The Cards return to the floor Tuesday night against a decent Drexel team. We’ll have our preview of that game up shortly.