By Chelsea Allen–
With a somber farewell to the Louisville’s three seniors, the No.19 ranked Card’s fell to unranked South Florida, 58-51, on Wednesday, in the last home game of the season. Fan’s brought a “red-out” to the Yum! Center, with hopes of victorious finale to send off hard-working seniors Chris Smith, Jared Swopshire and Kyle Kuric, but left defeated and disappointed.
Head coach Rick Pitino honored each of the three graduating seniors with high praises during the traditional final home game senior night ceremony, before the tip. With a standing ovation, the crowd cheered in appreciation as the seniors were introduced alongside their families, after viewing footage of their lives leading up to careers at Louisville.
But as soon as the buzzer sounded and the ball was tipped, attention shifted to the main focus night: closing out the home season with a much needed win. Swopshire started for the first time this season, but was unable to contribute offensively, adding a steal and three rebounds, without a basket. The Cards closed out a quiet and offensively weak first half down by five, 22-17, at halftime.
Though co-captains Smith and Kuric tied as leading scorers with 14 points apiece, the seniors’ efforts were not enough to keep the Bulls from seeing red. The Cards only led twice the entirety of game, both in the second half and by no more than four points.
Freshman Chane Behanan contributed nine points and seven rebounds, but two missed dunks became symbolic of the frustrating loss; the Cards simply couldn’t hit. The Bulls shot 40 percent from 3-point range, compared to the Cards’ insufficient 23.8 percent.
In final minutes of desperation, the Cards found themselves down 48-45 with 1:32 to play, when the refs made a disputed call in favor of USF possession after a loose ball, while granting the USF bench a timeout. The Bulls drew up an immediate made jumper following the controversial timeout, drowning any desperate hopes of a Cardinal victory on senior night.
“I hate the call to be honest,” said Kuric of the unfavorable decision. “I couldn’t believe he made that call, but that’s the call he made… we got stuck with it… gotta find different ways to win if things aren’t working our way.”
“He’s a big deal, you can’t replace him,” said junior point guard Peyton Siva, of Kuric’s leadership to the team during his final season. “He’s a pleasure to be around, one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met.”
The three Louisville seniors did not address the crowd following the loss, as is tradition on senior night. There is no official comment on why, or who made the decision. Louisville won their 10 previous final home games prior to Wednesday’s loss.
The Bulls defeat over the Cards was not a complete surprise. The Bulls were 11-5 in Big East play coming into Louisville, four spots ahead of Louisville in Big East standings. With a sprinkling of offense from multiple contributors, USF pulled a combined 27 points off the bench from leading scorers Jawanza Poland, with 16, and Toarlyn Fitpatrick with 11.
Saturday, the Cards followed up their unsuccessful home finisher with an attempt to steal senior night from rival No. 2 Syracuse, who had previously defeated Louisville at home by one earlier in the season.
The game did not go as planned. While the Cards led for the first 13 minutes of play, an all too familiar scoring drought took over Louisville’s game, ensuing a downward spiral to a 26-19 deficient at the half. The Cards would never redeem themselves.
Down by as many as 19 in the second half, the Cards’ attempted a very tardy comeback in the final minutes, losing the game by nine points, 58-49.
“I’d rather go out like I did, having zero points and a big win against a Louisville team that we hardly beat throughout my years than to have 30 points and a loss,” said Jardine, reported by the Associated Press.
Louisville has been lacking offensively, allowing competitors to hold them to 60 points or under the past five of six games. This head-shaking season closer was no exception.
“It’s been a little bit of our Achilles heel,” said Coach Rick Pitino of his offensively weak team after the Syracuse loss. “We keep missing open shots.”
Louisville lost a disappointing four of their final six games of the season.
As the No. 7 seed in this week’s Big East Tournament in Madison Sqaure Garden, Louisville will play the winner of Providence versus Seton Hall, Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“We expect to win the Big East Tournament,” said Coach Rick Pitino.
Photos: Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal