Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Road Warriors: Louisville Takes out Providence

7:04- Cards off to a great start with three balls by Reginald Delk and Edgar Sosa. Providence has turned it over twice in their first 3 possessions and Brian McKenzie missed an ugly jumper. Pressure defense from Louisville seems to be causing all kinds of problems, always a great sign for Rick Pitino teams

7:05- Sosa knocks down another 3, drawing a quick timeout from the Friars. Louisville now leads 9-0 after a strong effort from Samardo Samuels to get his own rebound twice, dive on the floor, and make the kick-out pass that led to the Sosa three

7:11- The under 16 minute timeout sees the Cards up 11-0. They’re launching from beyond the arc with absolutely no conscience, and it looks as if Providence will give them those looks throughout the game. When they start to clang off, Pitino’s squad will need to look inside to Samuels and establish the interior. Providence looks flustered and put off by Louisville’s pressure defense, and they’re taking ill-advised, off-balanced three-pointers in an effort to start digging out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves

7:13- Samardo Samuels goes up strong for an offensive rebound, gets the put-back and the foul. This is exactly what we’ve been looking for from him since his freshman season, and his rebounding has clearly improved this year, but that kind of effort needs to be a constant for Samuels as the physical play of the Big East begins to redefine the team’s needs

7:19- Louisville leads 19-10 at the 12 minute timeout. Providence has reeled off 5 straight points, and the Cards are clearly playing faster than they need to play. Mike Marra just nailed a three from the corner, though, and it’s nice to see the Rhode Island native finally find the shooting stroke Louisville fans have been waiting to see all year. Rick Pitino said he was the best high school three point shooter he’s ever seen, and he doesn’t dole out that kind of unabashed praise liberally. Hopefully Marra continues to show confidence in his shot as the season progresses.

7:24- Providence has whittled the lead down to five at 19-14. Providence seems unwilling to work the interior, but Sharaud Curry’s driving ability is starting to create some offense. Edgar Sosa made a horrible decision trying to sneak a pass through the press to Samuels, who has hands of something harder than stone, and predictably lost the ball, leading to a layup. Momentum is all on the home side now.

7:26- As I speak, Marshon Brooks knocks down a three and gets fouled, drawing the Friars within three. He misses the free throw, but Providence comes up with the rebound and gets fouled again. The Friars are not a great team from the charity stripe, and it’s showing. If they could knock down some freebies, they’d have the lead now.

7:29- The under 8 minute timeout sees the Friars even closer at 25-23. Mike Marra stroked another three and looks to have found his range from the outside, but Marshon Brooks snuck behind the D for a layup in transition to pull Providence within two. Louisville isn’t really running an offense right now; they’re tossing lazy passes around the perimeter and launching threes from all over the court as the shot clock winds down. The problem is, this isn’t a great long-range team, and Edgar Sosa has been the difference here, knocking down a trio of them to keep PC at bay. The Cards would do well to try to establish some semblance of an interior game.

7:36- Well, it was only a matter of time before this happened. Providence knocks down a few more threes and takes a 31-29 lead into the 4 minute timeout. Edgar Sosa has single-handedly kept the Cards in the game, and he’ll be going to the line to pull the Ville within 1 when play resumes. Providence has found their rhythm; they’re working the ball around the outside with purpose and precision, in stark contrast to the uninspired play of the Cards. Pitino has kept Samuels on the bench for extended periods of time, and as a result Louisville has scarcely glanced inside. The Cards need to keep PC at arm’s length and take a lead into halftime to feel better about losing that 14-0 lead.

7:50- A quick first half comes to an end with Providence leading 42-37. Samuels comes through with a big three-point play before the half to stop the bleeding a little bit, but Pitino needs to make some changes in the second half, especially on the defensive end. Louisville’s pressure defense forced some turnovers at the beginning of the game, but they haven’t been able to score consistently enough to set up their press. They’re 6 for 20 from beyond the arc, and that includes the 3 for 3 they started the half with. Hopefully Pitino will realize he needs to work inside-out and try to establish Samuels and Terrence Jennings on the low post. Otherwise, this could get out of hand in a hurry.

8:05- The second half is under way…COME ON CARDS GET SOMETHING GOING. Providence clanks a three to start, and I’m hoping that’s a good sign of things to come. The Friars finished the first half a blazing 15 for 20 from the field.

8:09- HUGE alley-oop flush from Bilal Dixon, who absolutely posterized Edgar Sosa on his way to the cup. Jerry Smith knocks down a three from the corner, though, and the boys are back within a bucket at 46-44. If the Ville can get some stops, they just might work their way back into the lead.

8:17- Louisville rolls off a nice 13-7 run to take a 57-55 lead into the under 16 minute timeout, which actually comes at 13:18 left. Samardo Samuels is absolutely dominating inside, and it seems Rick has taken my advice to heart. The Cards are working it to him down low and he is muscling his way to the cup every time down the floor. If they continue to work inside out, the outside looks will get better and better. If Providence starts to finally miss a few shots, I like our chances to come up with a big road victory in the conference. That’s a HUGE if with the way the Cards have been playing D, though.

8:30- The 12 minute timeout finds the Cards with a 59-56 lead, and Jared Swopshire, a.k.a “Swop,” going to the line for a pair. Louisville has done a much better job of controlling tempo in the second half, and is methodically making this a slower, more interior-dominated game. They need to continue to run their offense and not go into a run-out-the-clock, delaying type of game to keep the Friars at arm’s length.

8:33- A lightning quick 6-0 run finds the Cards back up 9 at 67-58. Sharp-shooter Preston Knowles stepped into a rhythm three, knocked it down, and Marshon Brooks launched a contested three over 6’ 10 Terrence Jennings, leading to a run-out and another Mike Marra bomb from long range. Two huge shots for a team desperately seeking some momentum. Timeout Providence.

8:41- An extended 20-3 run gives the Cards a 16 point lead at 74-58. Hopefully we can keep up this high level of play for the rest of the game. Providence is more than capable of big runs, and if they make a couple threes, Louisville needs to stay composed and let Sosa penetrate and set up his teammates.

8:50- Louisville coasts into the home stretch with a 79-61 lead at the 4 minute timeout. The Cards have a 42-19 advantage in the second half, and are dominating in all phases of the game. Whatever Ricky P said at intermission must have struck a chord, because his boys have come out like gangbusters. Barring a monumental collapse, Louisville should be looking at an impressive road win and a 2-0 record in the Big East.

9:04- Louisville continues their hot play and finishes out the game 92-70 winners with a highlight reel dunk by Edgar Sosa, who finished with 26 and really saved the Cards tonight.

Some Final Thoughts

This was a big game for Louisville for several reasons. It was a homecoming of sorts for Pitino, who took Providence to the Final Four before coming to the great state of Kentucky to coach the Cats and Cards, and he’s never lost to his old team. Also, any time you can go on the road and get a win in the Big East, you have to take advantage of your opportunity. A quick glance at Louisville’s Big East schedule reveals very few gimmies, so this was huge for their confidence. The Cards come back home to play St. John’s on Saturday, and should get to 3-0 in conference play before taking on Villanova in a white out game on Monday night. As far as the game goes, I thought it was very encouraging. The Cards came out on fire, took a haymaker to the mouth, and then took over the game in the second half. They got back to their pressing style of defense and added some balance to their offense, working from the inside out and trying to establish Samuels on the interior. Once they did that, the looks from outside got better and better, and Sosa was simply on fire from the opening tip tonight. It was great to see the freshman Marra step up with 11 points in his home state and get meaningful minutes in a conference road game. The Cards’ role players will be hugely important as the season progresses. Jared Swopshire, Kyle Kuric, Mike Marra, and Reginald Delk need to continue to provide efficient minutes off the bench. I think Terrence Jennings is a big X-Factor this season. The 6’10 sophomore is athletic, lanky, and an excellent shot-blocker. With the departures of Earl Clark and Terrence Williams to the NBA lottery, the Cards’ weak side defense has really suffered, and Jennings has shown himself to be the only reliable roadblock to opposing offenses in the defensive interior this season. Pitino said he spent most of his offseason working on his jump shot, which is clearly not what he needs to be working on. If he can come out with the intensity he shows on an intermittent basis from game to game, he can be a huge piece of an NCAA tournament team. Overall, very impressive win for Louisville tonight. Pitino’s modus operandi has been slow starts and blistering finishes, and I can only hope this edition continues the trend. Louisville has won a shocking 12 of their last 17 Big East road games, and Pitino is clearly very effective at getting teams ready to play in hostile environments. The Cards appear to have put that slow start behind them, and look forward to taking on the Johnnies at Freedom Hall this Saturday with a chance to go to 3-0 on conference play before their showdown with Villanova.

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