Cardinals Fly High Over Game Friars

Most Friar fans will tell you that all they want is great effort and they'll be happy. Well, Providence played its heart out but came up short against 23rd ranked Louisville, 80-72 in front of a crowd of 12,500 that included Herbert Hill and Tedy Bruschi, at the Dunk for Alumni Weekend.

The Cardinal improves to 20-6 overall and moves into a tie for first in the Big East at 10-3, while Providence drops to 13-12 and 4-9. For the Friars, the loss is their third in a row, and their seventh in the last eight games, as they fall into the unenviable position of having to scramble just to make the Big East Tournament. However, for anyone who might have thoughts about this team quitting or not giving effort, think again.

"I thought our guys played their hearts, they played their guts out, they didn't always play well, but they left it all out on the floor," said Tim Welsh. "They play with a lot of pride. Someone asked if they'd given up. Are you kidding me? Don't anyone ask me that question. It's a ridiculous question. Those guys are playing their hearts out, they'll continue to play their hearts out. There's a lot of basketball left. They're hurting in there because they have a lot of pride and we lost to a team that's going to be right there to go to the Final Four. We're at home, we expected to win. We didn't make the plays down the stretch. All we can do is close the book and move on to Monday."

Louisville is a long, tall, athletic team that presses all game long, but PC matched them in the first half. Led by Geoff McDermott's 13 points, Brian McKenzie's 11 and Randall Hanke's 8, PC jumped out to a 15-8 lead, but went into a prolonged six minute scoring drought when Hanke went to the bench for a rest, and Louisville passed them with a 12-2 run, keyed by lanky sophomore Earl Clark. Hanke's return restarted the offense and the half turned into a dogfight to the finish line. A three by Terrance Williams put the Cards up 37-36, but McDermott answered with a free throw and after a miss by Andre McGee, McKenzie nailed a three for a 40-37 lead. Clark followed with a short jumper and the Friars headed to the lockerroom up by one.

"At halftime I told our guys that if we get forty in the second half, we'll have a great chance to win the game, because Louisville gives up 59 points a game in the league," said Welsh. "You have to score against them because they're not giving up points and in order to score you can't turn it over. You have to have good possessions. First half we had a lot more solid possessions. We had six turnovers in the first half, eight in the second half, those two you get cost you the basketball game. They turned the one into an easy basket."

In the second half, the question became, who would blink first. The Friars hung in for the first ten minutes, and grabbed a 56-53 lead with 9:50 to play on a three point play by Jonathan Kale and driving slam by Weyinmi Efejuku. But Louisville called a quick time out and answered with a 14-3 run, highlighted by a steal at the baseline on an inbounds pass and an easy layup by Jerry Smith. When the run ended, Louisville was up 67-59 with just four minutes to play. Not coincidentally, Hanke had gone to the bench again during Louisville's run, and PC's offense ground to a halt while the Cards began looking inside.

"Louisville's got a lot of answers and that's the problem," said Welsh. "If you don't keep scoring and they get that little gap of six to eight points and it's tough to catch up because of the fact that they have so many answers, whether it's the guards making threes, Sosa got into the gap a couple of times, he comes in and makes plays to the rim and at the end of the game, we go man and they go inside to Padgett. They take what the defense gives you. Our guys fought back when we were down seven. We made some plays but then they made some plays to close the game out. You have to make all the plays to beat a team like this, you've got to make your shots going to the rim, you got to get some offensive tip-ins. Second half we didn't get as many good looks and we turned it over too much."

PC tried to fight back and cut the lead to four on an Efejuku jumper, but Clark answered with a rare three, Padgett began to hurt PC inside and Edgar Sosa hit a dagger jumper put Louisville up 75-67 with 56 seconds left. From there, the Cards coasted home, their lead topping out at ten points before a final basket by Jeff Xavier (11 points, 5 steals).

"Their philosophy, what they try to do is keep up on you, we tried to rotate all of our guys out there with the exception of Geoff because he just gives us that point forward who can handle the ball and relieve some of the pressure off the guards," said Welsh. "We tried to always keep three guards in the game plus Geoff and I thought that was good strategy because we limited our turnovers and we had good ballhandlers in and we had good offensive flow, but that's what they do to you. They're big bodies and they rotate and they bring in (Terrance) Farley, he could play a lot of minutes on most teams and he just played four minutes, but he came in and gave them a key four minutes defensively. Things happen when you've got a lot of depth."

The Friars shot just 36% for the game, but battled on the boards for a 44-41 advantage. Both teams had just 14 turnovers, but Louisville shot 58% in the second half and blocked six shots. Led by Clark (20 points), Williams (12), and Padgett and Smith with 11 apiece, Louisville flashed great balance. PC also received balanced scoring from McDermott (18 points), Hanke (14), McKenzie (13), Xavier (11) and Efejuku, who played an inspired game with 10 points and 6 boards.

"Weyimi and I had a good long talk after the game in a Pittsburgh hotel and then in the airport the next morning and we talked a lot," commented Welsh. "I think he was frustrated obviously and I was frustrated, and I said, listen, that's not doing either of us any good. Let's work on your game and try to get you back to where you're more confident. He was playing tentatively and today he did his thing. I want him to keep attacking. The thing I like is he went 4-13 but he got six rebounds. That's what I said to him, it doesn't always have to be about your scoring. You have to have other pieces to help us win, whether its getting steals, rebounding the ball, getting assists, he attacked the rim, which I like. He didn't get many calls, but that's OK. When he plays with that extra thrust he helps us. We talked about getting low to the ground and making more things happen and he did."

An effort like this likely would have resulted in more wins for PC this year, especially in several winnable games on the road. "Being on the road is tough," Welsh said. "Pittsburgh can make you look like you're soft and they can crunch you in half and that's what some of these teams do to you. I saw Marquette do that to them last night where it looked like they didn't show up. The other team, their talent, their energy on their home court can make that happen. I have no qualms about how we fought out there. I take no solace in how we lost, that's for sure. I'm not at that point, we're not going to say, oh yeah, we played hard, we're happy. No, that's not the case. We need to play better, but the first piece is that passion, that grit, that effort, that togetherness out there and we showed that all game long. You got to make the plays at the end of the game. Do that and you'll win some games."

Now the Friars have a 4:00 contest against the Hoyas of Georgetown on Monday to look forward to, so the path gets no easier. "Georgetown on Monday is obviously really good, same level as these guys," said Welsh. "Georgetown was preseason number five and these guys were preseason number six, and that's the way they're both playing. Georgetown got beat today but that can happen on the road in this league, so they're going to come in here with a sting on their shoulder and that's what I told our guys. Whoever feels the pain a little less may have a little jump. We're not going to hold the pain from this game, we have to go back and prepare for Monday and play another great team."

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