Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said, “Tonight, we played our best game of the season.” Those words are very telling for a Louisville team that has struggled to find its identity this season. They have struggled offensively and have less depth than most of Pitino’s teams at U of L.
Tonight’s victory over the No. 5 seed Northern Iowa Panthers could go a long way in giving them the identity they need. The Cardinals were in control for most of the game. After Montrezl Harrell’s dunk gave the Cardinals a 14 – 13 first half lead, they would never trail again in route to a 66 – 53 win over a Panthers team that had won 31 of their 34 games.
The Cardinals used their usual tough defense to bottle up the Panther’s offense. Northern Iowa came into the game shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three point range. U of L held them to only 39.1% from the field and 31.6% from three point range.
As well as the Cardinals played on defense, they played equally as well on offense. Coach Pitino said he put more focus on offense than defense for this game and it showed. Thanks to a heavy dose of Terry Rozier, the Cards shot a respectable 45.8 percent shooting. The Cards even made 17 of their 21 free throws for 81 percent. They came into the game making only 66.3 percent of their free throws.
Rozier was amazing against the Panthers, getting into the lane whenever he wanted, then making the right pass or making the shot whether inside or outside. Rozier was 8 – 13 from the field and 8 – 9 from the line. His stat line looked like that of his favorite player, Dwyane Wade, 25 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds.
Wayne Blackshear played another steady game scoring 10 points and grabbing 6 rebounds and made the play of the game late in the second half. Northern Iowa cut Louisville’s lead to 55 – 49 and had Louisville in a scoring drought of almost four minutes. Blackshear committed a turnover that led to what looked like an easy two points for the Panthers’ Wes Washpun. However, Blackshear raced back to bother the dunk attempt enough that Washpun missed it. Quentin Snider grabbed the rebound, threw it to Terry Rozier who immediately lobbed it to Harrell for an easy dunk to seize the momentum.
Harrell scored a quiet 14 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. More importantly he made 4 – 5 free throws.
The Cardinals move on to their fourth consecutive sweet 16. They will play in Syracuse, New York Friday against a familiar ACC opponent in the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Wolfpack gave the Cardinals one of their most disappointing losses of the season at the KFC Yum Center, beating U of L 74 – 65. The tip-off is scheduled at 7:37 P.M.