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.