Rick Pitino was promising a radio audience a couple of hours before tipoff that he fully intends to return as University of Louisville basketball coach. That he expects UofL have a top 10 team next season, setting a positive tone for the evening.
Visions of the collapse against Virginia came to mind, however, as Syracuse raced to an 18-6 lead over the first nine minutes. The power of positive thinking turning south, the Cardinals shooting blanks early, missing 11 of their first 14 shots. Looking a little bleak, all too familiar, Pitino pleading, cajoling, pacing court side, willing something to happen.
Right on cue, the threes start falling for Louisville. Damion Lee with two of them, then Trey Lewis, and was that David Levitch? Yes, it was. And, hey, there’s Matz Stockman cutting the deficit to one point on a layup, giving UofL its first lead on a jumper, 23-22.
The positivity had finally arrived, overcoming two weeks of negativity, and Louisville would defeat Syracuse 72-58 before a crowd of 21,654 happy fans at the KFC Yum! Center. The loss ending a two-game losing skid for UofL and five-game winning streak for Syracuse.
— Chinanu Onuaku reinventing himself again, unveiling new shooting and rebounding skills, along with a behind-the-back pass. Back in double-double territory again after a three-game absence, chalking up 13 points and 15 rebounds. A complete reversal from recent appearances, dominating the middle.
Onuaku was tagged with one foul for the game. Louisville had only two free throw attempts for the game, but guess who made UofL’s only free throw?
— Matz Stockman getting more playing time with Anas Mahmoud sidelined with an ankle injury, making the most of his minutes, with three field goals for six points. His four points giving the UofL lead changed the complexion of the game.
Donovan Mitchell getting a starting assignment. He would score eight points on four field goals — each of them rim-rattling dunks.
Damion Lee finding his range again, six of 14, including three 3-pointers, for his game-leading 15 points.
A much different outlook with Duke arriving in town on Saturday.
Kyle Bolin is back from obscurity, one more time, refusing to go away, bringing with him the kind of offense University of Louisville fans expect from a Bobby Petrino-coached team.
Bolin, remember, has been relegated to the backup of the backup quarterback for most of his career at UofL despite being ranked as a four-star prospect coming out of Lexington Catholic High School. Most of his playing time coming after injuries to other signal callers. Apparently not making much of an impression during practice sessions, he more than makes up for it during actual games.
So there was Bolin again, pressed into action against Syracuse after injuries to quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon. And there he was playing with a confidence unseen for a UofL quarterback this season, leading his team to an easy 41-17 win over Syracuse before 46,158 fans at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Putting up the kind of numbers not seen from a Louisville quarterback against a major opponent since the Teddy Bridgewater days, completing 24 of 35 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Those statistics are impressive even against a team like Syracuse that has lost five straight games. Bolin made it look easy, refusing to let his team play down to Syracuse’s level.
The ground game was back again, UofL running backs getting through the line of scrimmage for a change, picking up chunks of yardage, a clip of seven yards per carry. Break-away runs, unseen heretofore this season. So refreshing to see again.
Brandon Radcliff, respawned and reinvigorated, resembling the running back everyone expected to see this season, refusing to go down. He never got into the end zone but he punished the Syracuse defense with 117 yards, including a jaunt of 46 yards in the third quarter. He would add 24 more on three other carries, only to be lifted for a breather with his team on the Syracuse four-yard line.
Looked for a while like it was going to be Jeremy Smith’s day, with the freshman picking up more than half of his 71 rushing yards and a four-yard touchdown in the first quarter. However, Smith would fumble on Syracuse’s three-yard line in the second quarter, the fumble leading to Syracuse’s first touchdown and Petrino looking for a running back who could hang on to a football.
At the time, the pace was suggesting still another grind for the Cardinals. UofL badly needed some momentum, trailing 10-7, and it would be provided by cornerback Tremaine Washington. He would pick off an errant Eric Dungey pass and race 39 yards to the end zone, putting Louisville ahead to stay.
If Kyle Bolin was a nightmare for Syracuse, Tremaine Washington was a close second. In addition to the interception, the sophomore from Miami registered a total of 11 solo tackles, an assist and a sack.
No hesitation from Bobby Petrino after this game about who will be the starting quarterback against Virginia next week. Kyle Bolin makes his offense look good again.
Playing Syracuse in the Carrier Dome poses a significant test for the University of Louisville football team, with an environment not very friendly to an offensive unit that has yet to inspire confidence.
The Carrier Dome, which was opened in 1980, has a seating capacity of 49,262. Despite carrying the name of company that specializes in climate control, the facility has no air conditioning. During early fall, the heat can become a factor for visiting teams and fans.
The playing surface is field turf, which always looks like it should have been replaced years ago, detracts from the overall game experience and reflects poorly on the host university.
While Syracuse is averaging only 40,850 in attendance after its first two games, the crowd will be a factor if the game is close. The noise level will be a challenge for freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, making his first appearance in a dome. They call it the “loud house” at Syracuse for a good reason. Two seasons ago, a good UofL team, which finished 11-2 on the way to the Sugar Bowl, was totally frustrated and dismantled 45-26 in the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse is 2-2, after consecutive losses to Maryland and Notre Dame, and is looking to turn things around. The Orange has been competitive against Louisville, especially in the Carrier Dome.