Games like the one the No. 19 Louisville Cardinals just played Saturday against No. 9 Virginia make you think twice about the potential and the future of the team. Of course the Cardinals were dominated from the tip against Virginia losing 63 – 47. They were in need of a marque win. They got their chance in a nationally televised matchup against the No. 2 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels and they made the most of it by winning 71 – 65.
They played close matchups early in the season against Michigan State and Kentucky, both ranked teams, but lost both matchups. Then came the debacle against Virginia that left many wondering just how good this Cardinals’ team really is. It wasn’t an easy victory against UNC, but it did show that they can beat any team on any given night.
The Tar Heels came into the game as one of the best transition teams in the country. Of course, Louisville has had trouble defending teams in transition. Rick Pitino knew that if his team was going to have a chance they would have to get back on defense and thwart any chance of an easy basket for the Tar Heels. They allowed only six points in transition. “It was the game and with one day prep we really worked hard on, only Ray (Spalding) a few times tried to steal it back rather than get down the court.
“We were brilliant with transition defense”, Pitino said.
One game after scoring only six points on 2 – 7 shooting against Virginia, Damion Lee showed up in a big way leading all scorers with 24 points on 8 – 12 shooting. He also found the range from deep by hitting 4 of his 7 three pointers. Pitino said of Lee, “You know he is a big time basketball player, big time scorer and as Bill Raftery would say he has big time onions.”
Louisville found themselves in familiar territory in the first half as Chinanu Onuaku once again picked up two early fouls. However, Onuaku bounced back in the second half and finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
If you look only at his shooting you would think Quentin Snider had a subpar game. Snider scored only six points and made only 2 of his 11 shots. However, Pitino was very pleased with his point guard, “He had a great game tonight. He won’t look at it that way, but if I’m judging a point guard he was terrific tonight.” Snider finished with seven assists and only one turnover.
Snider outplayed his counterpoint Marcus Paige who came into this season as a Player of the Year candidate. Paige has struggled mightily in his last five games making only 10 of his 44 shots. He once again struggled against the Cardinals going 3 – 13 and scoring nine points.
Louisville’s biggest lead came with 4:29 left in the second half after Damion Lee’s layup. They had a number of chances to push the lead to double figures, but failed to do so after several turnovers and missed shots. North Carolina was able to get to within two after Joel Berry’s free throws. Trey Lewis then was fouled and made both of his free throws to put the lead at four and ice the game for the Cardinals.
Louisville now is off until this Saturday when Boston College comes into the KFC Yum Center for a noon matchup. With the Win over UNC, Louisville improved its record to 18 – 4, 7 – 2 in the ACC. North Carolina fell to 19 – 3, 8 – 1 in the ACC.