GETTING INSIDE Louisville (12-5 overall, 3-1 in the Big East) wanted to take No. 4 Villanova out of its rhythm when the teams met on Monday night. It did so. But unfortunately, it lost its own way in the process.
The game with the Wildcats is always an interesting test of where the Cardinals stand, since both Rick Pitino and Jay Wright like to press. Pitino's frontcourt players are better this year, while Wright has more experienced guards in his rotation. Playing in front of a hometown crowd and a national TV audience, the Cardinals had reason to be hopeful.
It looked good when Louisville jumped out to a 17-point lead, but the mistakes began to outweigh the positives. The Cardinals forced 22 turnovers ... but committed 22 of their own. They outrebounded the Wildcats by double digits, but they shot just 30 percent and allowed Villanova to make 69 percent of its 3-point attempts. And both teams committed 33 fouls apiece, which led to a total of 94 free throws.
Not exactly a game to make James Naismith proud.
And not a game to make Pitino proud either, because in the end the culprit was the same woe that has plagued the team all season: defense. When Louisville wasn't forcing turnovers, it wasn't doing enough to stop the Wildcats from scoring. Villanova went 24-for-48 from the floor and 9-for-13 from 3-point range, negating much of the Louisville rebounding advantage by not leaving enough caroms for the Cardinals to run down.
The hometown crowd will have to stew on that performance for a couple of weeks. Louisville now hits the road to play Pittsburgh Saturday at noon at the Petersen Events Center and Seton Hall on Jan. 21, not returning to Freedom Hall until a Jan. 24 showdown with Cincinnati.
VILLANOVA 92, LOUISVILLE 84: Louisville led by 17 in the first half but faded late in the game and lost at home to the No. 4 Wildcats in a game with as much ugliness as highlight-worthy plays.
The squads combined for 44 turnovers, 67 fouls and 94 free throws. But in the end, it was the guards from Villanova who put their experience to use and wore down the Louisville backcourt.
Trailing 53-46 in the second half, the Wildcats went on a 17-2 run thanks to a half-court trap that didn't let the Cardinals settle into the offense. From there, Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds took over. He had 30 of his 36 points in the second half, including the final 16 of the game for the Wildcats. That was enough to overcome Louisville's 39-for-45 night at the free throw line.
Samardo Samuels led the Cardinals with 21 points. Edgar Sosa added 17, and Peyton Silva reached double figures for the first time in his college career with 12.
--The one thing about Edgar Sosa is that he keeps the opposition on its toes.
One day the senior guard is scoring 26 points, as he did against Providence in a 92-70 victory. The next day he's struggling against St. John's, missing his first seven shots and a couple of defensive assignments.
That got him a seat on the Louisville bench, but it didn't take the air out of his sails as it might have done a couple of years ago.
Instead, when he didn't start the second half because coach Rick Pitino was looking to make a run with defense and wanted Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith at guard, Sosa accepted the situation and was leading the encouragement for the two who played.
"It's funny because (assistant) coach (Walter) McCarty kind of pulled me aside and said, 'Two years ago you would have just folded and just would have kept yourself on the bench,' and it's true,'' Sosa was quoted as saying in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
"I knew Preston and Jerry were getting the job done. ... It's not about me, it's about the team and it was about a 'W.' ''
This is what Pitino is looking for in a year when the strongest team, maybe not the most talented, will probably survive in the Big East.
--F Jared Swopshire is giving the desired strength on the boards that Louisville needs, pulling in 11 rebounds against Providence and following up with seven against St. John's.
--Coach Rick Pitino is 6-0 against Providence, the school he guided to the 1987 Final Four.
ON THE SPOT: The Cardinals did a good job of pressuring Villanova, but a bad job of handling the pressure in return. Without committing 22 turnovers, Louisville scores a huge upset. Instead, it was just a missed opportunity at home.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's maturing. He's accepting coaching. Before he thought it was criticism.'' -- Coach Rick Pitino, in the Louisville Courier-Journal, on veteran G Edgar Sosa.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: While there are those who would have you believe the season is lost by losing to Kentucky, actually it is quite the opposite with Louisville. The Cardinals bounced back from that hard-fought loss to roll into Big East play, pouncing on Providence and St. John's.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Jared Swopshire, F Samardo Samuels, G Preston Knowles, G Edgar Sosa, G Reginald Delk. Key Subs -- G Jerry Smith, G Rakeem Buckles.
Kentucky 71, Louisville 62
Louisville 92, Providence 70
Louisville 75, St. John's 68
Louisville 92, Villanova 84
at Pittsburgh, Saturday at noon
at Seton Hall, Thursday, Jan. 21
vs. Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 24
at West Virginia, Saturday, Jan. 30
IN FOCUS: The Cardinals have reached a crucial Big East game upcoming, a road trip to face an improving Pittsburgh team on a floor where it is very difficult to win.
--G Peyton Silva had played a total of 10 minutes in the three games leading up to the Villanova contest, but he got to play 11 against the guard-heavy Wildcats. The freshman responded with a career-high 12 points, including a 2-for-4 performance from 3-point range.
--F Samardo Samuels was one of the beneficiaries of the quick whistles of the referees Monday. He went to the line 13 times and didn't miss a shot, and he added to that with a 4-for-4 outing from the field to finish with a team-high 21 points.
--F George Goode continues to be sidelined by a bone bruise in his knee. It's now been more than a month since he last took the court, since the injury occurred at practice on Dec. 10.
--The Louisville Courier-Journal has reported that F Wayne Blackshear of Chicago Morgan Park is firm on the commitment he gave to the Cardinals over Christmas. The player's father said a story in the Chicago Sun-Times that stated that the commitment was soft was in error. "Nothing has changed at all,'' the father, Kevin Thomas, said.
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