Planet Red Hoops: Cards extend streak to 17
What a week for the Cards! Not only did Coach Pitino's second team at Louisville extend their nation's best winning streak to 17 with wins over C-USA rivals Cincinnati and Houston, they also established themselves as the front runner for the C-USA title with an 8-0 record and picked up an early verbal commitment from an athletic, 6'10 junior center.
The 6'10 center is Terrance Farley from Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park. Farley verbally committed to Coach Pitino last Tuesday night following his 15 point, 13 rebound, 7 block performance against Louisville Central High with Coach Pitino watching from the stands. The athletic Farley has huge upside and dominates at the defensive end with his shot blocking ability. Farley averages 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks for the #1 ranked Panthers.
As for the current group of Cardinals, they continued their climb to the top with impressive victories over Cincinnati and Houston last week.
Wednesday night with a national audience watching on ESPN, the Cards defeated the Bearcats 77-71 despite key players battling bronchitis and the flu. The Cards took a 12 point halftime lead on the Bearcats and were never seriously threatened by a Bearcat team that soundly defeated 12th ranked Oklahoma State on Sunday. And despite not playing its best basketball of the season, Bearcats coach Bob Huggins said following the game, "They are good. Very good.''
The Cards then hit the road to Houston where they soundly defeated the Cougars 81-55 to extend their nation's best 17 game winning streak and improve its road record to a perfect 7-0 this season. "Louisville is one of the two best teams in the country..they have a great inside-out game and their bench is tremendous," Cougars guard Andre Owens said following the Cards convincing win Saturday night.
This week, the Cards face tough tests at Saint Louis and Marquette. Saint Louis always plays tough at the Keil Center and defeated UofL twice a season ago and #15 Marquette (18-3, 8-1) swept the Cards in three meetings last season. The Golden Eagles are playing great basketball and defeated #14 Wake Forest on Sunday at the Bradley Center. A victory at Marquette next Saturday would be the biggest win of the season and all but assure the Cards of the top seed in the upcoming C-USA Tourney.
With that in mind, let's take a look back at the week on Planet Red Hoops.
The Cards continue to dominate teams with great effort and performance at the defensive end of the floor. Wednesday night against Cincinnati, the Cards forced a Bearcat team that entered the game averaging a national low 9.9 turnovers per game into 22 turnovers, including 13 in the first half of play. The Cards also limited Cincinnati to just 39% shooting, had 9 steals and blocked 8 shots against the former bad boys of C-USA.
The Cards were equally as impressive Saturday night against Houston, limiting the Cougars to only 38% shooting and just 9% from the three point line. The Cards held the Cougars top two scorers, forward Louis Truscott and guard Andre Owens, each below their seasons scoring averages. UofL again forced 22 turnovers against the Cougars, 11 coming off steals and out rebounded Houston by 9.
Marvin Stone continues to improve and had a big impact against both Cincinnati and Houston. Despite scoring just 6 points against the Bearcats, Stone played 33 valuable minutes, pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking 3 shots in the lane. His defense in the paint was a key reason for the Cards victory over UC by altering shots and keeping the athletic Bearcats off the offensive board. Against the Cougars, Stone was virtually unstoppable, scoring 17 points on 8-16 shooting, and grabbing 8 rebounds in 30 minutes of action. Stone gives the Cards the inside presence they need at both ends of the floor and his scoring and passing ability at the center position make him incredibly difficult to handle for opposing big men.
The Cards freshmen, Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean are simply one of the two or three best rookie duos in college basketball. Despite battling the flu, Garcia pumped in a school record tying 8 three pointers against the Bearcats Wednesday night and finished with a game high 24 points. But Garcia is not simply a one dimensional threat, as he also had 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots in 25 minutes of action. Garcia then poured in 14 more against the Cougars and pulled down 7 rebounds in 26 minutes. Over the last three games, Garcia is averaging 20.5 points per game and is establishing himself as the teams second best offensive weapon. And Dean finally shook off his shooting slump, nailing 5-8 three pointers against Houston. Dean scored 15 points, pulled down 5 rebounds and helped hold Cougar guard Andre Owens to just 8 points, 6 below his season average.
The Cards love ESPN and ESPN loves the Cards. Louisville is unbeaten this season when playing in front of ESPN camera's and ESPN talking heads are singing the Cards praises. "The top 25 in college basketball is essentially a beauty contest. And Louisville is looking the best," ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz wrote in his Sunday Daily Word. And even ACC homers Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas have been extremely complimentary of the Cards play in televised broadcasts recently.
Reece Gaines continues his outstanding all around play and is perhaps the nation's most complete player. No player in college basketball means more to his team than does Gaines and the numbers explain why. Against UC, Gaines had 17 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals in 31 minutes and hit 8-10 free throws to lead the Cards to a 77-71 victory. Against Houston, Gaines had 16 points, 5 assists and 2 steals and scored 8 points during the first three minutes of the second half to extend Louisville's lead to 30. At 6'6, 215, Gaines is a match up night mare with his size, quickness and penetrating ability. He breaks down opposing defenses off the dribble and and plays suffocating defense the entire game. Gaines is one of 30 finalists for this season's John Wooden Award, given annually to the nation's top player.
Rick Pitino not only is the best coach in college basketball, he's also the most persistent and active recruiter. Pitino's stamina and energy are simply amazing and the results are already rolling in. Tuesday night, Pitino attended a local high school game to scout the #1 junior big man, Terrance Farley, in the state of