Planet Red Hoops: Cards win showdown at Marquette
All good things must come to an end or so the saying goes. And that's exactly what happened to the Cards nation's best 17 game winning streak Wednesday night against St. Louis. The Cards simply didn't have it against the Billikins and blew a 7 point lead down the stretch to lose its first game since a November 30 set back against #25 Purdue. The loss was also the Cards first C-USA loss of the season as well.
The Cards rebounded in a big way though Saturday in Milwaukee. Coming off only it's second loss of the season, the Cards faced it's toughest challenge on the road this season against the #11 Marquette Golden Eagles.
Just last Sunday, Marquette showed how tough they are at the Bradley Center by defeating #15 Wake Forest handily to improve their home court winning streak to 28. But the Cards were up to the challenge and battled all the way before pulling out a 73-70 victory behind Reece Gaines' game winning three pointer with 5.3 seconds left.
The win assured the Cards first place in Conference USA's American Division with a 9-1 record with the Memphis Tigers coming to town for a Wednesday night showdown.
The Tigers are in first place in C-USA's National Division at 16-5 overall and are led by 6'9 Chris Massie and 6'1 Antonio Burks.
The Cards then travel up Interstate 71 Saturday to face the Cincinnati Bearcats in the rematch of the Cards February 5 victory in Freedom Hall.
A Cardinal fans dream: Memphis and Cincinnati in the same week. And with that in mind let's take a look back at the week on Planet Red Hoops.
This Cardinal team showed it's heart and determination Saturday in Milwaukee after having it's 17 game winning streak snapped earlier in the week in St. Louis. Facing it's toughest challenge of the season on the road, the Cards held the Golden Eagles to just 35 percent shooting from the field to defeat #11 Marquette 73-70. The Cards win snapped the Golden Eagles 28 game home winning streak and gave Louisville sole possession of first place in C-USA's American Division. "They come at you extremely hard," Marquette Head Coach Tom Crean said of the Cards following Saturday's showdown.
Team leaders Reece Gaines and Ellis Myles deserve the credit for the Cards strong performance at Marquette. Gaines scored 28 points Wednesday in the loss at St. Louis but was criticized by Coach Pitino for his overall substandard play. But did Gaines ever bounce back in front of friends and family in Milwuakee? In his head to head match up with hyped guard Dwayne Wade, Gaines dropped in 7-10 shots from the field, including 4-6 three pointers for a game high 20 points. Gaines also dished out 4 assists and nailed a 26 foot game winning three with only seconds remaining. "I just shot it because I knew it was the best shot I was going to get and I wanted to be the guy that shot it," Gaines said of his game winning shot. And I'll speak for most Cardinal fans. We also wanted Gaines to be the one to take that shot when it counted.
Myles was simply superb on the boards and helped limited 6-10 Scott Merrit to just 6 points. Myles pulled down 14 rebounds against the Golden Eagles, made a key assist to freshman Taquan Dean to give the Cards a 66-63 lead and nailed two free throws late in the game to put the Cards up three. Myles also played a warrior like 34 minutes against the physical Marquette front court. We just wanted to come out the way we're supposed to...and be tough.play hard and play good defense. That;s all just play hard. We weren't doing that. We did today," Myles said after the Marquette game. And Lousiville's toughness certainly begins with the junior forward.
Taquan Dean came up big against Marquette Saturday. The freshman scored 18 points, drilled 4 three pointers and hit clutch shots down the stretch. Dean also played excellent defense on Marquette All America Dwayne Wade, helping hold the junior to just 3-13 shooting from the field and holding him 7 below his season average. Dean, who played 32 minutes, pulled down 3 rebounds, dished out an assist and made one steal. Oh, and don't forget this kid is tough as nails. With an open gash under his chin, the young freshman guard pulled his jersey over the bloody wound to conceal the injury rather than go to the bench with the game on the line. Gutty performance no doubt!
The Cards continue to put its best face forward on national television this season. In eight appearances on ESPN, ESPN2, CBS and ABC, the Cards are a perfect 8-0. And it would have been 9-0 had the Indiana game been broadcast. So what's it mean? It means the Cards return to national prominence is official and you can rest assured the nation's top recruits have taken notice of Coach Pitino's winning ways. As an added benefit, it doesn't hurt the Cardinal program to have ESPN talking head Dick Vitale proclaim Coach Pitino's Cardinal program will be the dominant team in college basketball during the 2000's or that the premier point guard in the land, 5'11 Sebastian Telfair of Brooklyn Lincoln High School, LOVES the Cards. See Dick, Louisville really is better than Ann Arbor, MI!
Never mind the uninformed ramblings of ABC's Digger Phelps regarding the Cards chances of a #1 or #2 NCAA Tournament seed. He simply has no idea what he's talking about. The Cards are now 19-2 and have the fewest losses in the NCAA along with Arizona (20-2).
The Cards are 2-0 this season against the RPI Top Ten, defeating #2 Kentucky by 18 and #9 Marquette on the road to snap the Golden Eagles 28 game home winning streak. And Louisville is 3-1 vs. the RPI Top 25 with the only blemish a two point loss without Marvin Stone to Purdue in November.
Want more ammunition why the Cards remain a front runner for a #1 seed in next month's NCAA Tourney? The Cards are 7-1 against the RPI Top 50 and 9-1 vs. the RPI Top 64. And it's said that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee gives added weight to a team's performance on the road. And what team has performed better than the Cards this season away from home? Not only have the Cards beaten #9 Marquette on the road, they've also won 8 of 9 overall away from Freedom Hall, including a hard fought win in Knoxville over the Tennessee Vols and a blowout in New Jersey over the Big East's Seton Hall. Remember, UT just beat Florida in Knoxville and have won all 6 games since the Cards handed them a 72-69 defeat on Jan. 25. During their six game winning streak the Vols are 3-0 vs. the top 25, with wins at Georgia and Auburn. And Seton Hall has been just as good. Saturday the Pirates defeated #7 Pittsburgh and beat Notre Dame last week. The Pirates are 12-9 overall and ranked #38 in RPI ratings.
And with regular season games remaining against Memphis (RPI #40), Cincinnati (22), Marquette (9) and DePaul (35) the Cards strength of schedule, currently 36th in the RPI is certain to rise. So if the Cards continue to win games they'll likely receive one of the four #1 seeds in the NCAA Tourney.
The entire performance against Saint Louis was poor from this Cardinal team and deserves to be forgotten and discarded by fans and the media alike. It was simply a deviation from the Cards consistently excellent play this season. But you can bet these Cards and Coach Pitino won't forget the sting of that defeat or the reasons that caused it. And in the long run, the Cards will be better off because of the one point set back to the Billikins on the road.
Early dividends from the loss were apparent Saturday against Marquette. "That's all we talked about. I kept saying, Remember Saint Louis. Remember what we did on defense. Learn from it. Learn from it," Pitino said. And evidently the Cards did learn the lesson, holding the Golden Eagles without a field goal for 4 minutes down the stretch to pull out a 73-70 victory to claim possession of first place in the American Division. "It's funny how basketball works. If we beat Saint Louis, we probably would have lost this game tonight..But we were on edge so much from that loss that we had a great game tonight," Pitino added after the win at Marquette.
The Cards free throw shooting must improve before the tournament begins next week. The Cards missed free throws down the stretch against both Saint Louis and Marquette. And it cost them their 17 game winning streak against Saint Louis. If the Cards are to advance deep into the NCAA's, they'll have to make a higher percentage at the line, particularly late in the second half with the game on the line. Fortunately, the Cards have good shooters and have proven all season they can knock down those shots. I'm confident those free throws will go down in the coming weeks.