One of the best things about the University of Louisville’s 76-64 win over UConn Saturday is that all the talk about signature wins over quality opponents will go away. UConn was a great opponent playing on its home court.
The last regular season game between the men’s team at Storrs, Conn., will be remembered for a lot of reasons, among them the abrupt departure of UConn Coach Kevin Ollie, going ballistic over what he perceived to be a foul. Video replays clearly indicated that the shooter had attempted to initiate contact with Wayne Blackshear after the play was all but over.
The atmosphere in Gampel Pavilion would take a virulent turn, noxious and poisonous, potentially game changing. So toxic that Blackshear, an 83% free throw shooter, would miss both of his technical free throws. Perhaps intimidated by the intense reaction of the UConn coach and fans.
UConn was either going to erupt or go away altogether. Things could have gone south quickly for many visiting teams in similar circumstances.
Russ Smith would not be intimidated, however, having been through a few traumatic events during his career, stepping calmly to the line, sinking both shots, setting the tone, declaring there would be no backing down. Between all those turns on and off the bench , Russ would score 18 of his 23 points in the second half to lead all scorers.
Montrezl Harrell, who apparently enjoyed all the aforementioned drama, would play 39 minutes, having the game of his career, hitting almost everything he hurls toward the basket, eight of 10 attempts, for 18 points, permeating the back board for 13 rebounds while blocking three shots. Not disappearing this time against a “quality” team, choosing to stick around in a dominating performance.
Luke Hancock, the best at attracting fouls on offense, brings order when he’s on the court, somehow finding his way between defenders in the lane, old-fashioned stuff, making it work for him. Turning in 13 points, managing five rebounds.
Terry Rozier, at times resembling a former point guard, just managing the action, taking care of the ball, foregoing shots, providing a calming presence on offense, constant pressure on defense. His calming presence not reflected in stats that reveal only one assist, two steals and a turnover — except that he had seven rebounds. A shooter not forcing shots, putting the best interests of the team first.
Mangok Mathiang, looking at times like with predecessor with those three blocks, but not hitting the boards much, managing only two rebounds. One step at a time.
Louisville has won seven of the past eight games against UConn. They will meet again in the last regular season game of the season, March 8, at the KFC Yum! Center. UofL will no doubt still be needing another quality win at that point.