The month of February has not been kind to the Louisville basketball team. It started off great when then No. 2 ranked North Carolina fell to the Cardinals in the KFC Yum Center. Then, just four days later, they got the news that they were banned from the postseason.
After the ban was put in place, the Cardinals beat the worst team in the conference, Boston College, in an emotional game by 32 points. Then they went on the road and lost two close games to Duke and Notre Dame respectively. Trey Lewis then complained to the media about his playing time and being on a “leash” at times. It was the wrong forum to do so.
Mixed in with the soap-opera-like daily news of who decided on the postseason ban, this has been the most tumultuous months in the program’s history.
What do you do when your back is against the wall and you are emotionally spent? A strong performance against visiting Syracuse would certainly help the morale of this team. And what a performance it was.
The Cards struggled early, making only one of its first ten shots from the field and fell behind by 12 midway through the first half. Pitino explained early deficit saying, “Well, we were a little nervous early in the game because we kept missing shots. What I tried to tell them was to go inside, paint touch, don’t start the game shooting NBA threes, start the game getting paint touching and getting some movement. Then we started getting really good movement. They executed a beautiful play right before the half – came in with the lead and then from there we just played excellent basketball.”
Proof of the excellent ball movement was the Cards’ assist total. They assisted on 21 of their 32 made field goals. Four players finished with four or more assists. They committed only three turnovers in the second half after committing eight in the first half.
Chinanu Onuaku was a huge reason why U of L finished with a 41 – 30 rebounding edge. Onuaku had his ninth double-double of the season with 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. He dished out four assists for good measure. Even better was that he played 29 minutes and only committed two fouls.
Trey Lewis scored 14 points and hit a three at the halftime buzzer to give the Cardinals a 28 – 27 lead.
They would never trail again.
Damion Lee was held in check in the first half with four points. It didn’t take long for him to get going after halftime. Lee hit three threes in a span of 2:57 to put U of L up by nine. Lee finished 6 – 14 from the field, but did grab six rebounds and dish out four assists.
The second half brought back images of the Doctors of Dunk. Onuaku’s follow up dunk on a miss and two lobs to Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson who both threw them down emphatically with one hand sent the crowd of 21,654 into a frenzy.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier as Duke invades the Yum Center on Saturday for a noon showdown.
The Blue Devils are on a roll by winning their last five games. Three of their wins have come over ranked teams including a win over No. 5 North Carolina.