Someone around here once said if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Possibly true but there seemed to be little difference from beginning to the bitter end this year.
One long basketball season for the University of Louisville, a few peaks but too many valleys. A failure to maintain focus on defense, accompanied by the lack of any sustainable offensive threat. proving fatal in the end in games that counted the most.
So many times UofL was unable to finish games, to rise to the challenge, even when it was obvious what the opposition was going to do.
The Cardinals caving again on Sunday, giving up still another nice lead in the second half, this time to Michigan 73-69. The loss sending the Louisville home after the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Never has the pick and roll looked so easy as it did for Michigan’s Moritz Wagner in a 26-point performance. Probably the most dominating performance by a big man against Louisville in three decades.
The last time was when Iona’s Jeff Ruland scored 30 points in a 77-60 win over the eventual national champs in 1980. Iona, which was coached by the late Jim Valvano, had a 35th year reunion a couple of years ago to celebrate that win.
One of the most maddening things about this team was the inability of Louisville’s big guys to hit the close-in shots or cash in on the gimme’s, consistently missing wide open, uncontested dunks all season long. Followup tip-ins always a bonus, coming as a complete surprise all too often.
Reminiscent of the first couple of seasons after Rick Pitino arrived in Louisville. Lack of confidence, not much scoring from the bench, a poor shooting team, shaky from the field and on the free throw line, and unable to defend the basket.
When the deterioration sat in in the second half, it was quickly apparent there was not going to be a happy ending. Not surprisingly for close followers of this Louisville team.
The University of Louisville is off to its third consecutive Super Regional, totally dominating Michigan 13-4 in a game in which the Cardinals had 14 hits and seven innings of masterful pitching from Josh Rogers.
Rogers, a sophomore left-hander from New Albany, was making his second start in an NCAA Regional, a little nervous he admitted after the game. Reality struck quickly in the first inning when Carmen Benedetti clocked him for a two-run home run, jump starting Michigan with a two-run lead.
Rogers shakes it off, settles down and gives up only four hits while striking out five batters the rest of the way.
“I was nervous,” said Rogers during the post-game press conference. “If anybody says they’re not nervous before a game like this, they’re lying to you. I had some nerves going, but I got calmed down, settled in there and, after that home run, I just gave my team a chance to win.”
Nick Solak breaks the ice for UofL the next inning with his third home run of season. He would followup the next inning sending a runner home on a sacrifice to tie the game at 2-2, and still another runner on a single in a three-run sixth inning. By then, UofL owned a 8-3 advantage.
“We were very consistent all weekend — never really panicked,” Louisville Coach Dan McDonnell said. “We handled everybody’s best punch.”
Sutton Whiting, Zach Lucas and Logan Taylor added two hits each for UofL, improving its season record to 46-16.
Coach Dan McDonnell had some special praise for Devin Hairston who was named the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player after going five-for-ten at the plate and scoring four runs over the weekend.
“He’s the epitome of a great week of practice,” McDonnell said. “He and (assistant) coach (Eric) Snider just tweaked the swing a little bit, got him right.”
McDonnell can’t wait for a few more days of practice. Tweaking, tweaking, always tweaking.
Left-handed pitchers continue to pose a challenge for University of Louisville hitters, the Cardinals scoreless through the first six innings. Give them time and they will eventually solve Michigan’s Brett Adcock, sidelining him for the remainder of the regional.
Devin Hairston couldn’t match the four-for-four hitting from the night before. But he still found a way to push the winning run across in the 4-3 win over Michigan, possibly putting his University of Louisville baseball team one game away from another NCAA Super Regional.
It was Hairston’s foul ball to right field in the top of the ninth and a running and diving catch by Michigan’s Johnny Slater doing the damage. Slater should have let the ball go. All Colin Lyman, running for Danny Rosembaum, had to do was tag up at third and head for home.
As a result, the Cardinals will play the winner of the Michigan-Bradley game, scheduled for noon, at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Josh Rogers will be on the mound for UofL.
Freshman Brendan McKay came within one out of completing eight innings, being lifted for reliever Drew Harrington after giving up his only walk of the game. He would allow only five base runners while giving up four hits, one of them a home run by Carmen Benedetti in the fourth inning. One runner reached on an error in the eighth when Michigan scored two runs to tie the game at 3-3 going into the ninth.
Adcock, Michigan’s starting pitcher, would allow only three hits and three walks before handing the ball over to Bryan Pall in the eighth inning. The big blow off Adcock was a two-run home run in the seventh by Danny Rosenbaum, scoring Zach Lucas who had walked.
Big game for Rosebaum, with two hits, two runs batted in and scoring another.
A third NCAA basketball championship is in the books, the University of Louisville prevailing 82-76 win over a rugged Michigan team, the best defensive team in the country shutting down the most prolific offense. If there was any doubt, the Cardinals proved beyond any doubt that defense wins championships.
The glow over the UofL athletic program over the last few months has ballooned into a mammoth halo engulfing the Louisville community, home of one shining university that only continues to get better and brighter. A monumental season, a record number of wins at 35, a share of the Big East Conference title, the Big East Tournament championship, and the ultimate prize in college basketball.
On the same day announced that he is a Naismith Hall of Famer, Rick Pitino becomes the first coach to win an NCAA championship at two different schools, demanding everything from his players, not accepting anything less, guiding them through the obstacles on the court and in their lives, watching them succeed, finally cutting down some nets.
Falling in front of a Michigan blitzkrieg in the first half, a Michigan team hitting 66% of its shots, the Cardinals were dazed and baffled, falling behind by 12 points, needing a miracle. Anybody out there? Well, there’s always Luke Hancock. And Luke will answer the call, answering with four straight three-point shots, clean, pure net — each from the same spot on the floor.
Hancock, with his ailing dad watching from the front row, a player who will return next season, would be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, contributing 22 of the most important points in Louisville basketball history.
Chane Behanan wanted this, wanted it more than anything ever, a work horse on the backboard, unveiling the dexterity and work ethic that he had been saving for a special occasion, this one, envisioning a national championship, never giving up on rebounds or shots, pounding and pounding away. Chane would finally rebound, “a man among boys on the boards,” commandeering 12 rebounds while contributing 15 points in his best game ever in a red and black uniform.
Peyton Siva does so many things, providing a calming presence among the most significant, taking control after Hancock gets UofL back in the game, attacking the middle, finding openings in impossible places, adding 18 points, coming up with six rebounds, four steals and five assists. Banged and bruised he would get no rest or sympathy from Rck Pitino, needing his star guard for 36 minutes of “awesomeness,” knowing Siva won’t let him down.
Gorgui Dieng, playing 37 minutes in possibly his last game with UofL, making it a memorable one, back to hitting jumpers and putbacks, quietly going about his business. Assisting Siva in managing the offense, turning in six assists, a new personal high for him, along with eight rebounds, eight points and three blocks. Neutralizing Micigan’s Mitch McGary, allowing that imposing presence, one of the leading scorers in the regional, only six points.
Russ Smith, another player appearing in possibly his last UofL game, reverting back to the old Russ even in a championship game, but making buckets of memorable contributions along the tournament trail, forever embedding himself into the hearts of Cardinal fans. That contested jumper of his at the 8:44 mark giving UofL a 53-48 lead, sending McGary to the bench with four fouls. Despite his challenges on the final night, Russ will be remembered as one of the best performers in the overall tournament.
Montrezl Harrell would provide the awe-inspiring slam dunk of the tournament at just the right time in the first half, that smile of his lighting up the arena, motivating his teammates, firing up the UofL faithful, providing a vision of the future, visions of continuing greatness from the Pitino stable on the Belknap Campus.
Kevin Ware willing his team to come back, deservedly getting the honor of cutting down the last remnants of the net, looking forward to the day when he can get back out there.
A wildly jubilant UofL fan base celebrating late into the night in Louisville, in Atlanta, and on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a must-be-there destination for many UofL partisans with visions of still another NCAA basketball championship this season. The Louisville basketball team began the season ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in all the national polls, living up to expectations, exceeding expectations, delivering one of America’s most coveted prizes to their school, their community, their families and fans.
The headlines, the banners, the glory, they all belong to the University of Louisville. The long, long wait is over.
This moment, this day, this season, this year belongs to the Cards!
Will Michigan contact Louisville for a football series?
Tom Jurich isn’t waiting for the telephone to ring. With Notre Dame having opted out of a series so it could play five games with Atlantic Coast Conference opponents annually, the Wolverines will have open dates on their schedule from 2015 through 2017.
Associated Press writer Ralph Russo has emerged from relative obscurity, proactively suggesting possible opponents to fill the void for Michigan. Other than his AP credentials, Russo is just another person with an opinion unless someone at Michigan put him up to getting involved in scheduling issues. He devotes considerable attention to Auburn, Brigham Young and Florida State before getting around to discussing Louisville (or Cincinnati) …
The Cardinals have room on the schedule and might even agree to a two-for-one deal, in which they make two trips to the Big House for one visit to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium by the Wolverines. How about this: Michigan and Louisville at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati? If nothing else, it might tick off Ohio State fans, and doesn’t that alone make it worth it for Michigan? Striking a similar deal with Cincinnati makes sense, too, but the Bearcats are booked up for 2015.
… Oregon and Oklahoma State.
If he had done his homework, Russo would know that Jurich is unlikely to enter into a two-for-one deal, no matter how highly regarded the opponent. Admittedly, the Michigan brand is certainly attractive, enough so that TJ would have to think long and hard about it before passing on the idea. Quality opponents have been hard to come by for UofL in recent seasons. Those that have agreed to play, like Georgia and Georgia Tech have opted out in the end. Even Duke bought out of a series.
Russo’s idea of Louisville and Michigan playing at a neutral site in Cincinnati would be impossible to turn down, especially if the revenue were to be split 50-50. An easy trip for UofL fans who would grab every available ticket, even at astronomical prices, a prospect which might appeal to Jurich.
Let’s say Michigan did call and that Jurich did agree to some kind of arrangement. What would that say about Louisville’s chances of getting into another major conference? Future scheduling would certainly be a concern if he were in back channel discussions with another league. If he did agree, would it mean continued residence in the Big East? If he turned down a shot, the speculation would begin all over again.
Let’s just admit a series with Michigan is a pipe dream. As long as Louisville is trending upward under Charlie Strong and becoming competitive again, Michigan is not going to call. Visions of UofL returning to the level of the Bobby Petrino era are enough to discourage lesser opponents. Unless something changes, the traditional powers are not going to change their modus operandi.
One could argue whether change may or not be coming. The creation of a selection committee in 2015 to determine which teams wind up in the playoffs would be a catalyst for change. Conferences like the Big 12, Big 10, SEC and PAC12 are leaning toward nine-game league schedules. To impress the selection committee, it may behoove many schools to beef up their out-of-conference games to improve their odds, giving the nod to Louisville over the many directional schools that currently occupy their schedules.
That’s expecting a lot from the big boy schools who dominate college football.