Planet Red Hoops: The week in review
The Louisville Cardinals are 12-1 and 4-0 in C-USA and moving up the national rankings. ESPN's Digger Phelps told a national audience after Thursday's performance against East Carolina that the Cards were the team you don't want to face in March. The Cards are on a roll, having won 11 straight games since an 86-84 loss to Purdue without starters Marvin Stone and Erik Brown and key reserve Kendall Dartez and the nation's top recruits have taken notice. All signs point to a spectacular 2002-03 season with even better things ahead for this hot and rising program. With that in mind, ITV takes a look back at last week's performance.
Louisville's senior leaders, Reece Gaines and Marvin Stone, deserve a big thumbs up for their play against C-USA foes East Carolina and TCU last week. Stone, who struggled offensively against Ohio State, came up big in last week's two conference matchups. Against ECU Thursday night, Stone dropped in 23 points on 9-11 shooting and pulled down 9 rebounds. He played just as well against TCU on Saturday, as he scored 22 points on 8-11 shooting and pulled down 8 boards against the Horned Frogs. Stone also blocked 5 shots against the Frogs and has become a strong defensive presence in the paint that has allowed the Cards to be one of the top defensive teams in the nation. Gaines was equally spectacular against ECU and TCU. In Greenville, Gaines played like a pro with his penetrating moves to break down the Pirates excellent half court defense. Gaines scored 22 points but more importantly dished out 6 big assists to key the Cardinals attack. And against the Horned Frogs on Saturday, Gaines pumped in 20 points and handed out 8 assists, proving that he's just as effective at the point as he is off the ball.
The Cards are 4-0 on national television this season, including impressive victories over Seton Hall, Kentucky and East Carolina. In each, the Cards displayed the fast paced, exciting brand of basketball Coach Pitino is known. So the Cards deserve a big thumbs for their great play in front of a national audience. And recruits across the nation are taking notice of UofL's quick rise back to national prominence, as upwards of 10 recruits called the basketball office to offer congratulations after the Cards big win in Greenville last Thursday night!
Coach Pitino deserves a big thumbs up for his continued determination and effort on the recruiting trail. Last week, Pitino was in Atlanta, GA to see two of the nation's top junior big men prospects go head to head, 6'10 Dwight Howard of Atlanta Southwest Christian and 6'10 Randolph Morris of Landmark Christian. Howard, TheInsiders.com #1 center prospect in the class of 2004 scored 23 points with Pitino looking on and led his Southwest Christian team to a big victory over Morris' Landmark Christian squad. Morris, TheInsiders.com #5 center prospect in the 2004 class, also poured in 23 points in the losing effort. Pitino, the only Division 1 head coach in the gym that night, made a big splash with both recruits and the local media in attendance.
Louisville's defense deserves a big thumbs up and is the primary reason the Cards are 12-1 and on the verge of crashing the Top 10 for the first time since 1996-97. The Cards have now held nine consecutive opponents under 40% shooting from the field. Last week the Cards held ECU to 38% shooting and TCU to just 39% from the field and limited the Pirates and Frogs to just 6-31 from the three point line. These Cards play suffocating half court defense, and wear its opponents down with relentless full court pressure, forcing numerous errors and miscues from its opposition. Marvin Stone and Ellis Myles control the defensive backboard, with each player pulling down over 9 rpg. Francisco Garcia, Kendall Dartez and Stone block shots in lane and Myles can be counted on to step up and take a charge in traffic. As TCU Coach Neil Dougherty said after Saturday's game, "(Pitino's) team defensively is what every coach is trying to get to. Whatever he's doing, however he's doing it, I think it could be a model plan on defense. It's very good. You have to do a lot of things to break it down, and that's very easy to say but difficult to do." That about says it all!
The Cards shooting performances against the Pirates and Horned Frogs deserve a big thumbs up as well. Thurday night in front of the hostile crowd in the Greenville the Cards made 36-62 shots from the field for an incredible 58% on the night against a Pirate team that had been holding its opponents below 40% at home. Then Saturday against TCU, the Cards made 30-62 shots for 48%. Combined, the Cards made a remarkable 66-124 shots against the Pirates and Frogs last week. That kind of shooting in combination with the Cards stifling defensive effort can take this bunch a long way in March.
Thumbs up to local high school standout Rajon Rondo. The Eastern High junior point guard led his team to the LIT title last Saturday night with a 64-58 victory over the Iroquois Raiders. Rondo, ITV's #1 player in the state of Kentucky regardless of class, set the tournament scoring record with 148 points in five games. In the semifinals against top ranked PRP, Rondo scored 47 points to hand the Panthers their first loss in state this season. Wednesday night, Rondo told ITV in an exclusive interview that UofL and IU were his top two collegiate choices. Nice job, Rajon!
When your 12-1 it's hard to give thumbs down to any player or aspect of the Cards play. But 2-12 from Ellis Myles from the free throw line against East Carolina and TCU won't get it done against top level competition. Myles is certainly one of the top rebounders in the nation and pulled down a combined 19 boards verses' the Pirates and Frogs but must convert a better percentage at the foul line to stay in close contests during the closing minutes of the game. Myles has proven he can knock down the foul shots in the past and I'm confident he'll regain his confidence and touch in the near future.
Big thumbs down to C-USA for scheduling the Cards to play on the road in Greenville for a 9:00 game, then force UofL to turnaround and play host to TC