On The Road With John Rooke: Louisville

Think anyone in New Jersey would mind if the Friars renamed the Continental Airlines Arena for Dunkin Donuts – just for this next Wednesday night?

Or, perhaps all they would need to do is bring in "Dave Gavitt" Court to play on. Because right now, this Friar team apparently requires some of the familiarity home court provides in order to play up to its' potential.

All signs going into the match-up with Louisville pointed to Providence advantages – in the frontcourt with a decided edge in size, and in the backcourt, with the return of Sharaud Curry after a four-game suspension…especially considering the Cardinals were preparing to play with a three and four guard line up. Add to this mix the fact that Louisville was also starting two freshmen at guard (albeit talented freshmen), and the pieces were in place for that so-far elusive first road win of the season.

This, however, is why they actually play the games.

Rick Pitino's Cardinals started with an early blitz of three-point shots that hit their mark, and relied on the quickness that their 2-3 zone provided in frustrating, and ultimately defeating the Friars 78-63 Saturday at Freedom Hall. "Coach told us it's not always the size of the players, it's the size of the heart," said Cardinals' freshman guard Jerry Smith. Indeed, the Louisville players opened up with an intensity that the Friar players simply failed to match. The result was a staggering season high total of 26 Providence turnovers, that led directly to 39 Louisville points – exactly half of their total score for the day.

"They blitzed us early, and that was really the game," Friar coach Tim Welsh said afterward. Left unsaid, however, was why it happened at all. "With those four guards out there, we're very quick," offered Louisville center David Padgett. "We're quick on our rotations, and we have quick hands that cause a lot of deflections. That's the key to our success."

Amen to that.

However, the Friars were not without their chances to get back into the game, thanks in part to a woeful 1-9 start at the free throw line by the Cardinal shooters. And yet, PC couldn't sustain a comeback as they hit only 5 of their first 11 tries from the line, and trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half. Still, with 4:46 remaining in the game, the Friars had clawed back within six at 57-51. Louisville was staggering, had gone cold from the floor, and was in some foul trouble.

A defensive stand was needed, and the Cards responded with back-to-back threes from Terrence Williams and Brandon Jenkins to seal the deal. Williams scored a season-high 23 points with 12 rebounds to lead the Louisville effort, as the Cardinals have now put solid back-to-back offensive performances together for the first time this season, including an 81-55 win at South Florida earlier in the week. Williams has certainly jump-started his season, at one point connecting on eight consecutive three point field goals (4-4 vs. USF, and his first 4-4 vs. PC). Freshman guard Edgar Sosa added 20 points, and played with the poise of an upperclassman. With the win over Providence, the Cards have now won two straight Big East games for the first time in their brief Big East history.

Herbert Hill provided a strong effort inside for the Friars, with his 4th double-double of the season – 23 points and 11 rebounds. Geoff McDermott also provided his customary double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds (adding up to a 45-32 backboard advantage), but also contributed an uncharacteristic season high seven turnovers. Weyinme Efejuku was nowhere to be found, barely scratching the surface for four points on 0-4 shooting from the floor, with six turnovers in only 24 minutes. While Curry's numbers in his return were respectable (13 points, 7 rebounds), he shot a mere 4-17 from the floor and committed six turnovers as well. There was some rust in his game.

And that rust, unfortunately, spread like wildfire through the entire team.

Game Notes:
Providence was without the services of freshman center Ray Hall, who sprained an already-tender ankle in practice last Thursday. He did not make the trip to Kentucky, staying home to receive treatments. The Friars hope to have him back in about a week to 10 days…perhaps some of the early cold shooting from PC came from the fact that they did not get the chance to shoot around on the Freedom Hall floor prior to the game. The team flew into Louisville Thursday night, because of the early start to the game on Saturday at noon, and when setting up a Friday workout, they were informed by the Cardinals that Freedom Hall was not available, due to a concert being held that night…the Orange Bowl champion Louisville football team was introduced at halftime, along with the Orange Bowl trophy, and new head coach Steve Kragthorpe. Cardinal fans hoped for an announcement from quarterback Brian Brohm that he would be staying for his senior year, rather than go into the NFL draft, but that did not (yet) materialize…body language is becoming a real factor for the Friars, once their play cools down. Efejuku, in particular, received a lot of mental "stimulation" from assistant coach Allen Griffin during the game while seated on the bench, yet when he returned to the floor, his shoulders often slumped and his attentiveness dissipated…McDermott was also atypically quiet during the game, and the only time he showed emotion was to jump on Hill for failing to block out on a play…the last time the Friars played in Freedom Hall was the scene of one of the best moments in program history, a win over Georgetown in the 1987 NCAA regional finals to advance to the '87 Final Four in New Orleans. Unfortunately, good karma must have a shelf-life…the team returned to Providence immediately after the game in order to go to work on Seton Hall for Wednesday at the Meadowlands…spotted at the Louisville airport – an absolute dead-ringer for Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, complete with his all-white suit and walking cane. He was headed out of town, and apparently makes frequent appearances on behalf of the restaurant chain. The original Colonel passed away several years ago…if you have the opportunity to travel to Louisville, make sure to visit "4th Street Live," a vibrant downtown area full of restaurants and clubs that were bustling with activity even during the two rainy nights the Friars were in town. Try Makers Mark for the bourbon sirloin…and be sure to ask for Sara…very knowledgeable on the history and quality of the 71 different kinds of bourbon they serve…and no, we did NOT try them all…until after the game, at least…

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