It was business as usual for Arizona as they shot 50.0% from the field in the first half and put 44 points on the board. After intermission, though, the same shots that had been falling for the Wildcats were now coming up short.
Arizona made only one of their first 15 field goals to open the second half. With 7:36 to go in the game things were not much better as the Wildcats were just 2 of 21 from the floor. Despite their struggles, Arizona led 58-52 and would make enough free throws and short jumpers in the game's final five minutes to hold on for the win.
The win improved Lute Olson's record at Madison Square Garden to 11-1.
Louisville outrebounded Arizona 44-30 by keeping the Wildcats off the offensive glass. Their aggressiveness on the boards was also their downfall though as the Cardinals were whistled for 29 fouls. Arizona made 30 of 43 free throws while Louisville made five in only eight attempts from the line.
Arizona seniors Mustafa Shakur and Radenovic accounted for 19 points and six assists in helping the Wildcats mount a 41-26 lead with 5:30 to play in the first half. The lead was spurred by a 20-2 run over a nearly five minute stretch. Arizona's play turned sloppy as they began to take poor shots early in the shot clock. Louisville would outscore Arizona 9-4 to end the half trailing 44-35.
Arizona looked tired to start the second half and saw Louisville put together a 15-5 run to take the lead 50-49. Arizona quickly responded with a 9-2 run of their own to take back the lead 58-52.
Leading 64-58, Arizona switched out of their 1-3-1 zone and played man-to-man in the game's final 4 minutes and 40 seconds. The switch forced Louisville into two turnovers and a slew of missed shots as the Cardinals could get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
Up next for Arizona is a trip this Saturday down south to play the San Diego State Aztecs in San Diego. The game will be part of a doubleheader with the early game featuring a match up between Oklahoma State and Ball State.
A preview of the game against SDSU will post on Friday. Before we look ahead, though, let's take a quick look back at the good, the bad and the ugly from tonight's victory.
Nine Wildcats saw the floor tonight with Wise, Dillon and Brielmaier each logging at least eight minutes. Hill played a little over two minutes. Brielmaier pulled down three rebounds, made both of his free throw attempts, took a charge and caused a jump ball. Dillon played excellent defense and had no turnovers in helping Shakur break the Louisville press. Wise had two turnovers, but played 12 minutes and gained valuable experience. He made both of his free throws and had one assist. Radenovic was absolutely amazing in the first half out hustling, rebounding and scoring his opponents. He also did a great job in drawing fouls on Louisville's freshman center, Caracter, who fouled out with over nine minutes to play. Budinger again was impressive as he continues to be Arizona's best player in moving without the ball. He puts himself in position to score at all times and does so in a way that makes it easy for teammates to feed him the ball. His curl move off a screen for a lay up at the 5:41 mark and his running, fall away jumper with two minutes to go were things of beauty. McClellan again played with passion and emotion (which I love about him) and more importantly, showed leadership and poise in sinking 9 of 10 from the charity stripe.
Leading 41-26 with 5:30 to play in the first half, Arizona opened the door and allowed Louisville to stay close by taking three terrible shots in a row. The Wildcats were playing so well and Louisville was still missing shots. Instead of staying within the flow of the game, Arizona's sudden attack of poor shot selection was just bad enough to trigger a spark in Louisville's once stalled battery. The Cardinals outscored Arizona 9-4 to close the half and carried that momentum well into the second half before coming up just a bit short.
This is a no brainer. Arizona has been shooting so well from the floor this season so watching them miss 19 of their first 21 second half shots was stunning. Still, the team did not fold, played lock down defense in the final four minutes, rebounded Louisville's missed shots, made their free throws when they counted, and preserved the victory. As ugly as Arizona's shooting was, this game might prove to be their most impressive win of the early season when we look back at this game weeks from now. Either Arizona's legs tired in the second half or they were mentally tired because almost every shot clanked off the front of the rim. Credit Louisville with stepping up their intensity on both ends of the court, but Arizona was still getting good enough looks at the basket. Hopefully, a long plane ride home tonight and a few days back in Tucson prior to heading to San Diego on Friday will provide enough rest so that Arizona can again play like Wildcats this weekend.