Senior Day games bring a lot of emotion for the players and fans alike. Some teams start off with a wave of emotion early on and then the energy goes away which allows the other team to get back in the game. It happened when Louisville went to SMU last Wednesday during the Mustangs’ Senior Day. The Mustangs were up by 14 early in the game and then the Cardinals got right back in the game and took a 32 – 30 lead into halftime.
The 11th-ranked Cardinals made sure the 19th-ranked Huskies never got back into the game after taking an early 10 – 2 lead in route to an 81 – 48 victory. It was one of the most complete games they have played from beginning to end this entire season. The Cardinals clinched a tie for the AAC regular season conference title with Cincinnati.
Louisville coach, Rick Pitino, was worried that Russ Smith would be a bit too amped up for his last game in the KFC Yum center. What he got was a Smith performance unlike any he has seen. Smith finished the game attempting only two shots while dishing out a career-high 13 assists. Pitino said, “I can’t ever imagine Russ Smith, knowing him, on senior night, would pass up all opportunities to score and get 13 assists. It shows you how much he has grown. If any pro scouts wondered tonight whether he can be a point guard, I think the thing is now closed. He can pass, he can handle, and he had an amazing performance by him.”
Pitino added about Smith, “I think he (Russ Smith) was trying to say, because we were making such a big deal out of it, was not getting carried away on Senior Day and stay focused. More than anything else, he got to play point guard and he knows the role of a point guard, which is pass before shot. So he moved over from the 2 to the point and that is why he had to do what he had to do.”
This was also the Senior Day for Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese, and Tim Henderson. Together the Cardinals’ quartet of seniors helped become the all-time winningest class in the school’s prestigious history. Hancock poured in 16 points. Van Treese was all over the floor finishing with 6 points, 2 steals, and a season-high 13 rebounds. Henderson started and scored the game’s first basket.
Louisville fans may have also witnessed the last game for sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell. Harrell had another monster game for the Cardinals scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. NBADraft.net and draftexpress.com both have Harrell projected as the 25th pick of the first round. That could change based on his performance of late. Pitino said of Harrell, “His wing span is just phenomenal. He’s an incredible basketball player right now. He’s improved his passing. He’s improved his dribbling. He’s improved his one-on-one moves.”
Louisville’s defense was outstanding against the Huskies. They held Connecticut to a season-low 48 points and an abysmal 29.4 shooting percentage. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, one of the AAC’s top backcourts, were held to a combined 4 of 24 shooting and committed 9 turnovers.
Huskies’ coach, Kevin Ollie, was not pleased with his team’s performance after the game saying, “I didn’t see anything like this coming. And I’m glad it came because now we know how tough we have to be to be a champion. [Louisville] is a champion. We weren’t tough enough. We weren’t together enough. [Louisville] took every opportunity to take advantage of it. That’s what champions do. That’s why they’re the champions.”
A coin toss was held after the game to determine the number one seed for the upcoming AAC conference tournament with Cincinnati winning. The conference tournament begins this Wednesday. Louisville will earned a first place bye and will play the winner of South Florida and Rutgers Thursday at 3:00.