Planet Red Hoops: Cards are a "special team"
What a week for the Cards on Planet Red Hoops! Not only did the Cards record impressive victories against DePaul and Tennessee, but they also received the nation's #1 ranking in the respected computer driven, Sagarin Ratings.
On Wednesday, the Cards dismantled a much improved DePaul team that ranks as one of the best defensive units in Conference USA and is ranked #34 in the RPI, 71-43 to improve to 5-0 in C-USA play. Then on Saturday, the Cards made a dramatic second half comeback to defeat a solid Tennessee team that ranks as one of the top rebounding and free throw shooting teams in the SEC and had defeated 46 of the last 47 non-conference opponents to venture into Thompson-Boling Arena.
With a 14-1 record and lofty national ranking, the Cards are off to their best start since the 1996-97 season and in the midst of putting together a very special season! "I just think this is a special team....Their desire to win is off the charts...We have it rolling right now and I don't mean in terms of a 14-1 record. I mean in terms of spirit," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said after the remarkable comeback win at Tennessee that extended the Cards winning streak to 13 games.
It is that kind of spirit and determination, the refusal to give up against any opponent that separates this Cardinal team from most others in the college basketball. These Cards are a truly special group that plays unselfishly at the offensive end of the floor and unrelenting and tenaciously on the defensive end. They are hungry to win, eager to learn and exciting to watch. And they will continue to improve and develop as this season progresses.
And if you like omens, here's a couple that might get you thinking big. During the 1980 NCAA Championship season, the Cards went to Knoxville and knocked off the Tennessee Volunteers despite facing serious obstacles. The 2002-03 Cards just did the same thing yesterday. And during the 1986 Championship run, the Cards defeated Duke 72-69 to win its second NCAA Championship of the decade. Yesterday's score against UT: Louisville 72, UT 69.
With that in mind, let's take a look back at the week in Planet Red Hoops.
It all starts with All-America guard Reece Gaines and he deserves a big thumbs up for his performances against both DePaul and Tennessee. He is the heart and soul of this team and his leadership and unselfishness at the point this season have positioned this team as a title contender. Against DePaul, Gaines played 29 minutes, scoring 14 points, grabbing 4 boards and handing out 2 assists. On Saturday against Tennessee, Gaines was simply unstoppable in the second half. Gaines played spectacular defense the entire game, recording 4 steals against the Vols, one of which provided a huge momentum swing for the Cards during their second half comeback. He also poured in a game high 22 points and dished out 6 assists, the last resulting in forward Kendall Dartez' short jumper that proved to be the game's winning field goal with 54.2 seconds left in the game.
As has been the case all season, the Cards unrelenting defensive effort is a constant and deserve the highest praise and a big thumbs up from ITV! While the Cards full court pressure wears it opponents down, it's half court defense suffocates the opposition, forcing teams into sub par shooting performances. Against DePaul, the Cards held the Blue Demons to 34% shooting and just 1-9 from the three point line while forcing 17 turnovers from the Demons. And despite allowing UT to shoot 50% from the field in the first half of Saturday's game, the Cards pressure wore down the home team in the second half and limited the Orange clad Vols to just 43% shooting for the game. More importantly, it was the Cards defense in the last ten minutes of the game that initiated the come from behind victory, allowing Tennessee's offense only two field goals during that important stretch. "I just felt like my guys, with seven minutes to go were just whupped, completely worn out...We were just zapped," Said Tennessee Coach Buzz Peterson after the Cards 72-69 victory.
6'10 transfer Kendall Dartez is coming into his own and is becoming a vital ingredient to this teams success. For that accomplishment, Kendall deserves a big thumbs up for his performances last week against the Blue Demons and Volunteers. Wednesday against DePaul, Dartez scored 4 points and pulled down 6 rebounds, including five on the offense glass in 21 minutes of action. Then Saturday against the Vols, Dartez played 24 important minutes in relief of the foul plagued Marvin Stone and Ellis Myles. Dartez scored 5 points, pulled down 5 rebounds and blocked 1 shot and had a steal. But it was his play late in the game, hitting two huge free throws and the game winning jumper with 54.2 seconds left that earns his this distinct honor.
Marvin Stone is playing well and if he continues to do so will, "hear David Stern call his name as a first round draft pick," according to Coach Rick Pitino. Against DePaul, Stone had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks and held 6'9 Sam Hoskins, the Blue Demons leading scorer to 0 points and 1 rebound for the game. Stone was even better against Tennessee, scoring 13 points, and grabbing 13 rebounds against the Vols talented front court of Ron Slay, and Brandon Crump. Stone deserves a big thumbs up for his performance in the paint last week.
And finally a big thumbs up to the Cards for their remarkable comeback ability. Five times this season the Cards have overcome first half, double digit deficits to win games, including Saturday against Tennessee when the Cards trailed by 12 in the first frame. The Cards have a never say die attitude and its clear this teams confidence continues to grow with each victory this season.