Here are a few key points after an 81-48 win by Louisville over Connecticut on Saturday.
1. The key is on defense: Louisville is going to score points, no worries about offense with this team right now. But the key continues to be defense and the drastic improvement on that end of the floor for the Cardinals. U of L not only held UConn to 15 of 51 (29.4 percent) but kept Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier out of the lane - and I mean even when they didn't have the ball. The defense did such a great job of making sure those guys didn't penetrate the lane. It's amazing how much better the defense and communication has been recently for the Cardinals. U of L's 3-point defense ranks third in the country at 30 percent and for the third time the team held an opponent under 15 percent from behind the three-point line. UConn was 3 of 22. Yes folks, defense wins championships.
2. Wayne Blackshear with a nice effort: Junior Wayne Blackshear had been struggling. But he really stepped up and made some nice plays, a solid effort on defense and 11 points. He hadn't scored double digits since the Rutgers game on Feb. 16 but hit 3 of 7 three-pointers and had a very aggressive dunk with two defenders on him in the first half. He played with an aggressive nature and was solid on both ends. I've said it all along that he could be the 'X' factor for this team. He needs to play like that every game and not just in ones the Cards are up a lot.
3. Russ the passer: You think Russ Smith read that Sports Illustrated article last week? An NBA executive said he was selfish and didn't make his teammates better. So, Russ answers with 13 assists. The career-high in that mark was impressive but think about it because it wasn't against a bad team. That was the No. 19 team in the country he was dropping dime after dime on during his Senior Day. He was sensational and it's tough to think about not having him around. Heading into the postseason, Smith needs eight steals to tie Peyton Siva for the school's all-time mark. He still needs around 60 points to move into the top five on the school's scoring list. A truly special player!
4. SVT/Mangok combo getting it done: Of course, if Stephan Van Treese is going to get six points and 13 rebounds every game that's a difference maker. But even without the sensational game on Saturday, the post position is giving the Cardinals much better play recently. Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang are getting better and better and really playing at a higher level than earlier in the season. Coach Rick Pitino said he needs seven or eight points and 10 or so rebounds a game from those two players and right now that's happening.
5. A few leftovers: The senior class has 116 career wins and is the winnigest class in senior history. . . . U of L finished the season 16 of 18 at the KFC Yum Center and are now 66-9 all-time in the building. . . . The Cardinals have won 12 of the last 13 Senior Day games with the lone loss coming two years ago to South Florida. . . . U of L was 10 of 22 from three-point line and now has 10 of more three-pointers in 12 games this season.