We all know Louisville and West Virginia are bound by law to play extremely close games with crazy finishes, but this one may have been the craziest of them all.
With just under two minutes to play, the Cards took a 67-62 lead after a Preston Knowles jumper. WVU cut the lead to 67-64 with about thirty seconds left, but Chris Smith sank two free throws to extend the lead back to 5 at 69-64. Then things started to fall apart for Louisville.
West Virginia inbounded the ball with a half minute to play and no timeouts. Joe Mazzulla threw a lazy pass to Casey Mitchell on the left wing. However, Kyle Kuric was playing well off Mitchell and not only could Kyle not intercept the pass, but was left in poor position to challenge the Mitchell shot, which he sank to trim the Louisville lead to 69-67.
After a Cardinal timeout, UofL got the ball in to Peyton Siva, who was quickly fouled with 17 seconds left. Peyton, a 69% foul shooter on the year, was only able to make one free throw and West Virginia got the ball back with a chance to tie the game.
The Mountaineers got the ball up the floor and on the left wing, ran Mitchell off a screen. Both Louisville defenders mixed up their responsibilities and got caught underneath, thus leaving WVU’s leading scorer with another open look from three which he again buried to tie the game at 70-70.
No problem, the Cards now had the ball with 8 seconds left and at worst, was heading to overtime in Morgantown. That’s when the sh*t really hit the fan.
Preston Knowles brought the ball upcourt and got a decent look from three on the top right. He missed and on the ensuing chaos of the rebound, ran into WVU’s Truck Bryant resulting in a foul call with 0.6 seconds left. Bryant sank both free throws and after an unsuccessful Chris Smith heave, the Cards drop the regular season finale in heartbreaking fashion.
Ok, let’s address the biggest issue. What was Preston Knowles doing and was it a foul? Second part first, in my opinion, it was a foul. I understand the argument of based on how much physical play is allowed during the course of the game, and the entire Big East season for that matter, the official should probably let it go and let the teams decide the outcome in overtime. I get it and generally agree with it.
However, you simply cannot give the refs the option of calling a foul there. If Bryant makes an 80 foot, one handed shot, you live with it and move on. You just CANNOT do anything that resembles a foul.
In boxing, there’s a saying if you don’t want to get screwed out of a decision, don’t leave it up to the judges. I think the same logic applies here. If you don’t want to lose on a bad call, or anything that could be construed as a bad call, don’t put the officials in a spot where they may blow their whistle. The bottom line is Preston did not need to be that close to Mitchell in that situation and as much as it sucks, I think the correct call was made.
Another issue that will probably get more attention in the basketball offices in the defensive breakdowns resulting in the two Casey Mitchell threes. Those were two fundamental mistakes made that led to this defeat as much as Preston’s foul. The one thing UofL cannot allow to happen with a five point lead is three point shots.
On the first Mitchell three, Kuric got caught playing well off him. The part of that particular play that really bugs me, and was the key element, is the fact is if Kyle is on him a step closer, he either steals the pass or Mazzulla doesn’t even make the pass. Instead, Kyle sagged too far off and by the time he realized he could steal the pass, he was late with the steal attempt and gave Mitchell the open look.
On the second three, Siva and Knowles got caught in poor position defensively. When West Virginia ran Mitchell off a screen on the left wing, Siva, who was switching onto Mitchell, failed to get out in enough time and the result was another open look. This breakdown to me was more a lack of proper mentality.
In that situation, with Louisville holding a three point lead, you can give up a backdoor cut, a drive to the basket, or even a foul inside, but you must defend the three point line. With a screen and switch coming, Peyton has to get out there and be sure to not allow an open three point attempt.
UofL did not defend correctly in those situations and it burned them.
Now, having said all that, let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Yes, this loss was crushing and immensely disappointing. However, Louisville is still the #3 seed in the Big East tournament, which is what they were going to be win or lose. The only thing today’s loss does is change the Cards’ record from 24-7 to 23-8 and their conference record from 13-5 to 12-6.
It’s perfectly fine to be ticked off about this game and dare I say it’s not the absolute worst thing that could happen going into the Big East tourney. But, Louisville must channel this emotion in the right way. They can use this as motivation to be sure to never make those mistakes again and make a run during the tournament. Or, they can let this demoralize them and they’ll get bounced early in New York.
Whatever the case, we’ll find out Thursday around 9:45 when the Cards take the floor again.
Oh, and by the way, Kyle Kuric is really good. It’s his world, we’re just living in it.