With all the talk about scary Northern Iowa finally muted, the University of Louisville can look forward to even more hair-raising competition in the NCAA tournament. The Doomsday scenario only have had the effect of generating high levels of respect for the opposition.
Terry Rozier certainly wasn’t affected by all the Chicken Little chatter, the sky is falling routine or the pre-game analysis that had made NIU a two-point favorite. Exuding poise and confidence, not missing a chew of his gum, prodding and poking the defense for openings, creating as many as they gave him, shredding, discarding the disbelieving Panthers.
Rozier would connect on eight of 13 field goals, including one 3-pointer, and eight of nine free throw attempts for 25 points. Equally awesome, however, were those half-court alley oop completions to Montrezl Harrell in the final three minutes, sucking the air out of the building. Those were only two of his seven assists, a new personal high for him.
— Wayne Blackshear joining the 1,000-point club with that 3-pointer at 12;23 mark in the first half, but the play of the night was coming out of nowhere to block a sure dunk by NIU’s Wes Washpan that would have pulled NIU within four points. Quentin Snider would grab the rebound, hurl it downcourt to Rozier, in turn finding Harrell for another of those marvelous dunks.
— Mangok Mathiang would make another 10-foot jumper for his only points, but the job he did on NIU’s Seth Tuttle. Besides blocking two Tuttle shots, he would keep him contained and, importantly, was never suckered by any of the ball fakes. standing his ground, bewildering Buss much of the night. He’s come a long way on defense. Fourteen points, but a very long night for Tuttle.
— Harrell, actually getting a couple of breaks to rest, accumulating 14 points, six rebounds, two blocks and an assist, still energized at the end. Very much so.
— Jaylen Johnson finding six minutes of playing time, playing like he belonged, three points, three rebounds, earning more playing time when it counts most, for him, for UofL. A late bloomer, someone else Rick Pitino can count on, he’s going to be good one, and sooner than expected.
— Snider continuing to grow at point guard, commanding respect from his teammates, becoming a fourth scoring threat, adding 10 points, the little guy also emerging with four rebounds.
A new sense of cohesion, a sense of purpose binding this team together, they are own biggest fans, with a new body language. They’re setting their sights high, enjoying winning and having fun, more than ready for any scary scenarios.