Pittsburgh v Louisville

Louisville making slow progress back to its closing ways in win over Pitt

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Louisville just needed a win, any type of win, to get out of their current funk of a three-game losing streak.

The one they got, a 64-61 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night at the KFC Yum! Center, was an ugly one. And frankly, it was one that the Panthers really lost, more than the Cardinals won.

Pitt was an abysmal 3-for-12 from the free throw line. That’s really the only stat one needs to see. The points were free and the Panthers didn’t take them. They made up for going 9-for-18 from three-point range, but that was almost in total desperation.

But even in a game that they were given, Louisville was able to do something, or believe it was able to do something, that they haven’t done in the past three games, close.

Free throws, primarily in the second half, had been a problem in the past three contests, with the no. 13-ranked Cardinals hitting 20-of-42 after halftime. Tonight? They were 13-of-17 overall, including 6-for-6 from Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan in the final minute to lock it up.

Turnovers? Well, turnovers in the final minutes weren’t the Cardinals friend as well over the past 10 days. Peyton Siva’s gaffe that led to the Michael Carter-Williams dunk. The three turnovers in three possessions at Syracuse and, even though it didn’t go into the record books as a turnover, the final possession against Georgetown are all examples of sloppy late-game play that contributed to losses that easily would’ve been wins earlier in the season for Louisville.

Against Pitt, the patience that was absent in recent contests, the virtue that Siva and Smith (who scored 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the win, something that had also been missing recently) had been able to use when the game got close or the minutes dwindled, came back. Probably the most significant example of that came with less than a minute to go. Up 60-58, Smith had a shot at a drive off the right that probably would’ve led to a pull-up bank shot. He could’ve taken it, but he backed off when he recognized Lamar Patterson was leading Smith right into Steven Adams for the trap. He passed back out to Siva and it led to two of those free throws from Dieng, sealing it.

It’s the little things that will bring the confidence back to Louisville. Especially in Big East Conference games that will more than likely feature more close contests than blow-outs.

But things are already starting to return to normal. Dieng finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Smith put up his 20. Siva, while his offense needs to improve, finished with 10 assists and four turnovers and as a team the Cardinals finished with 18 assists on 23 field goals.

The Panthers shot 9-for-18 from three, including a deep one from Tray Woodall at the buzzer to make it a three-point decision. Patterson was the only other Panther in double figures with 10 points and Talib Zanna finished with 10 rebounds.

It’s a win. No one remembers how you won at this point in the season, only that you did, come March. But if there’s one thing to remember, by that rationale, it’s that Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware, both key cogs on offense and defense, didn’t play a minute.

But in the Big East, Louisville will have to keep finding ways to getting back to their closing ways. It shouldn’t be too hard, given how the first two months of the season went. More than likely it’s going to come down to that as we head towards the Big Dance.

David Harten is the founder of The Backboard Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.