It sounds weird saying this about the No. 12 team in the country, but I actually liked what I saw from Louisville on Thursday night.
Their press looked as good as it has all season long, forcing 20 Bearcat turnovers. Montrezl Harrell played really well in the low post, finishing with 18 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Luke Hancock played what might have been his best game of the season. Louisville stormed back from a 17-point deficit in the span of about three minutes.
Here’s the problem: all that good was packed into about a 12 minute stretch during the second half. The Cardinals were completely out of sync offensively in the first half, mustering a meager 20 points thanks to a 7-0 run in the final 2:27. They allowed Cincinnati to hit six of their first seven shots to start the second half, digging themselves that 44-27 hole.
The worst part? After Russ Smith hit a deep three to give the Cardinals a 64-61 lead with 5:03 left, Louisville wouldn’t score again until Terry Rozier hit two free throws after being fouled intentionally with less than 10 seconds remaining. They would lose 69-66, a tip-in from Justin Jackson being the eventual game-winning basket.
The Cardinals did everything they could to erase a huge deficit and beat a very good — and, at No. 13 in the country, still underrated — Cincinnati team, they just couldn’t close out the win. There was Smith settling for a second 28-foot three. There were the missed box-outs, most notably on Jackson when he gave Cincinnati a 65-64 lead. There was Smith trying to finish over Jackson, the AAC’s best shotblocker. There was Harrell getting stripped by Jackson with 40 seconds left.
For anyone, that kind of a loss will hurt.
But for the Cardinals, it gets magnified.
This team still is in a position where they are without a marquee win on their resume. They’ve won at UConn, which is good but not something to hang a tournament resume on. They’ve beat Southern Miss in Louisville, which, again, isn’t all that great.
And they will really only have two more chances at getting a big win: at Cincinnati and at Memphis. Both of those teams have won in the Yum! Center this season.
Louisville’s tempo-free profile is strong, and what we’ve seen over the last three weeks can back that up.
But the Cardinals are now in the same spot as Iowa: as good as they look on paper, they haven’t done anything this season to prove that they are a team that can make a run.