Refresh your memory on the past month of men’s basketball

By on January 12, 2015

By Noah Allison–

This past month of games started against former assistant coach Kevin Keatts and his UNC Wilmington Seahawks. Although a smaller and less talented opponent, they out-played and out hustled Louisville. In the second half, they came back from an 18-point deficit and cut the Louisville lead to two points.

Although Louisville walked away with a win, the demeanor of the team was that of the most disappointing performance of the season. In the post game, Pitino commented that “ego was edging out greatness” on this team and he hoped that such a poor performance would be a wake up call for his Cards who played down to competition.

Almost more infuriated than Pitino was junior captain Montrezl Harrell. He spoke passionately and, without using names, was not coy about the lack of effort and sincerity with which many of his teammates were approaching the season.

“We came out in the first half and guys were walking around like they didn’t want to play,” Harrell said. “We’ve got to lay it on the line for forty minutes. All the little stuff that we go through off the court, don’t bring that on the court, we don’t have time for that. We’re looking to get better every day and we’re looking to move forward as a basketball team. We don’t have the time to deal with off the court issues and people coming into the locker room with egos.”

Seemingly since then, the Cards have progressed on a game-by-game basis. The following game was the first road game of the season at Western Kentucky, a scrappy road battle in which Harrell was ejected before the start of the second half.

Without their team and emotional leader sophomore guard Terry Rozier stepped up and scored 17 straight points in the second half and finished with a career high 32 points.

Harrell was suspended the following game against Cal State Northridge. The Cards looked to their other captain, senior Wayne Blackshear, to lead the team to a victory. Blackshear scored Louisville’s first 13 points and went on to score a career-high 31 points.

Montrezl Harrell returned after his one game suspension for Louisville’s biggest regular season game as in-state rival and top ranked Kentucky traveled to the KFC Yum! Center just two days after Christmas.

In many ways Louisville did what they had done all year, played up to the competition. The grind-it-out defensive stalwart that was the Battle of the Bluegrass featured two of the top defensive teams and programs in the country. In the end though Louisville made just 15 of 58 shots taken and had only one assist in the whole game. Shots were there and they simply rimmed in and out for the Cards too much on the day as Kentucky won 58-50.

“I think the message to our basketball team was, we really had to win it with offense, because we’re a little offensively challenged, especially from the three-point line. We wanted to go in to Montrezl Harrell as much as possible, but they did a very good job denying it. Their length is pretty incredible. Not being able to pass the ball like we want, not getting on the break, our defense was very, very good in the first half. We knew that we would play good defense. We knew we’d force turnovers. It was a question of whether we could score, and the answer was we didn’t,” Pitino said.

Despite the loss it was not as deflating as it was disappointing. Louisville showed that with the inevitable improvement that this season will hold, U of L can compete with the best in the nation. Louisville’s losing effort had them drop just one ranking in the AP top 25 from four to five.

The Cards took care of business just a few days later against Long Beach State as Rozier led the way with 23 points.

A little less than a week later, Louisville began ACC play. The Cards opened up conference play on the road at Wake Forest. Montrezl Harrell returned to his home state of North Carolina and had a dominant first half with 20 points but the Demon Deacons hung around. Despite going into halftime with a ten point lead, Wake Forest kept it a one-possession game through most of the second half taking a one point lead for a few moments.

The intensity was an eye-opening experience of ACC play.

Chris Jones shouldered the squad scoring 20 of his 22 points in the second half, hitting multiple late game tough shots to seal the deal.

Returning home against Clemson, Chris Jones would again take on the brunt of the second half scoring efforts. Heading into halftime down by four, the Cardinals came out with intensity and scored the first 17 points of the half but Clemson still managed to stick around trailing by just a few possessions. Jones again scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half.

“In the ACC, there are a lot of grind out teams. Teams that play great half-court defense. We’ve got a lot of young guys that don’t know about conference play but they are seeing it these last two games that you have to grind it out,” Jones said.

Finally over the weekend, Louisville traveled to North Carolina to face Roy Williams and his Tarheels. Despite having a 13-point lead in the second half, UNC pulled out the victory on a last second shot by junior guard Marcus Paige to put the Heels up one point.

Terry Rozier led the Cards in scoring with 25 points while Chris Jones added 19 points and five assists.

The Cards now stand at 14-2 overall with a 2-1 record in the ACC.

Photo by Austin Lassell / The Louisville Cardinal 

 

 

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