The No. 21 Memphis Tigers earned a huge home win on Saturday as they rallied late in the game to beat No. 7 Louisville 72-66 on Saturday for an American Athletic Conference home win.
The Tigers went on a crucial 15-1 run and scored at least a point on eight consecutive possessions to close out the game as Memphis held Louisville without a field goal the final 4:47 of the game.
Louisville seemed to have all of the momentum with 4:47 remaining as Montrezl Harrell’s dunk put the Cardinals up 65-57, but the Tigers buckled down on the defensive end and began to get stops that led to transition buckets. Geron Johnson’s strip of Russ Smith and driving layup with 2:38 remaining tied the game at 65 and Chris Crawford’s three-pointer on the ensuing possession put the game away for good for Memphis.
The win gives Memphis a big season sweep over Louisville and even though Shaq Goodwin struggled to a 1-for-11 afternoon from the field, the Tigers still had a balanced scoring effort.
Mike Dixon (18 points), Johnson (15 points), Austin Nichols (14 points) and Crawford (12 points) all finished in double-figures and never stopped fighting on both ends of the floor.
Louisville had a monster effort from Harrell (25 points, 12 rebounds) but struggled when Russ Smith hit the bench with four fouls in the second half. Smith scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and didn’t score the final 12 minutes of the game as the Cardinals struggled to find consistent offense besides Harrell.
Memphis dealt with its own foul issues as Chris Crawford had four fouls early in the second half and played through it to knock down four big three-pointers. The Tigers (22-7, 11-5) now have difficult tests at Cincinnati and at home against SMU to close out AAC play.
Louisville (24-5, 13-3) had a chance to take a one-game lead on Cincinnati in the AAC after the Bearcats’ afternoon road loss to UConn but are now tied atop the standings at 13-3. The Cardinals don’t have it easy, either, as they travel to SMU and host UConn to close out conference play.
While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.
One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).
They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.
That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.
“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”
As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.
Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.
But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.