Red Hot Louisville Rides Its Winning MomentumPosted by rtmsf on February 21st, 2012
Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following Louisville’s 90- 82 road OT win over DePaul on Saturday.
Rise of the Redbirds
They came by the busload, making the five-hour trek up through Indianapolis and then northwest to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont. Saturday may as well have been “Occupy Allstate Arena” because the red-clad Louisville fans undoubtedly outnumbered DePaul supporters. They roared when Russ Smith was swiping steals and finishing tough drives, when Peyton Siva was driving deep into the lane and finding Chris Smith, when Kyle Kuric slipped to the left corner and buried trey after trey. Ah yes, this was Louisville basketball. After starting the season like a house afire (12-0), Louisville dropped five of its next seven games, the low point being an ugly 31-point drubbing at the hands of Providence. With Saturday’s 90-82 overtime win at DePaul, however, the Cardinals have now won seven of their last eight, the only loss coming at home by a single point to #2 Syracuse. Even with Chane Behanan struggling with the flu and Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva in foul trouble on Saturday, Louisville (21-6, 9-5 Big East) still managed to erase a 10-point halftime deficit to earn the win. They have the talent to play with anyone in the country, but there are a few keys that can help the Cards continue their roll and enter the postseason with momentum.
- Louisville needs Peyton Siva to stay out of early foul trouble. He loves being active at the top of their trademark 2-3 zone, but when he accumulates silly reach fouls early, he gets relegated to the bench. That disrupts Louisville’s offensive rhythm and flow because Smith doesn’t play as quickly as Siva. Russ Smith is a talented scorer off the bench, but he’s more of a two-guard than a point guard. He has a habit of over-dribbling at times and doesn’t distribute the ball nearly as well as Siva.
- Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith must continue to stay hot from beyond the arc. Louisville’s offense becomes a little one-dimensional when Kuric’s distance shooting is taken away. Against DePaul, Kuric buried five three-pointers on his way to a season-high 25 points. If Kuric and/or Smith are hitting treys, that loosens up the defense for Siva and Smith to penetrate and get to the basket.
- The sooner that freshman stud Wayne Blackshear can get comfortable and integrated into the team, the better. He hit a few shots early against DePaul, but then looked a little lost and didn’t play much in the latter stages of the second half. It’s hard to say how much Blackshear will be able to give Louisville in his return from a torn ACL. But there’s a reason he was expected to contribute immediately, and his return only gives Louisville more size and weapons on offense.
- Gorgui Dieng must be a threat on defense and offense. He will always be a force on the boards and the defensive end (leads the Big East with 3.3 blocks per game). But as Rick Pitino pointed out after the game, Dieng needs to be willing and able to hit the mid-range jumper, especially when a team goes zone against Louisville. His ability to do that only increases the potency of Louisville’s attacks.
- Difficult games against Pittsburgh and at Syracuse still await Louisville before postseason play begins. If they can avoid foul trouble and maximize their offensive efficiency, the Cardinals should enter the Big East Tournament flying high.
A Quick Look Back
Louisville made it a point to acknowledge the fans after the thrilling victory over DePaul: