Rushed Reactions: Starks and Bowen Deal Louisville Its Third Straight LossPosted by IRenko on January 26th, 2013
I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Louisville and Georgetown. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
“Some people panic, but we don’t panic at Louisville,” said Rick Pitino after his Louisville team lost its third straight game on Saturday, falling at Georgetown, 53-51. “We’re judged in March,” he said, adding that he was happy that the Cardinals “played their tails off tonight” and that what ails the team are “little things that are correctable ” For his part, Georgetown head coach John Thompson III wasn’t about to downgrade his opponent either after his team’s big win: “Let’s get this straight. [Louisville is] a helluva team. That’s one of the best teams in the country.”
No single factor explains the Cardinals’ slide since being ranked as the very best team in the country two weeks ago. After the loss to Syracuse, a terse and somewhat ill-tempered Pitino had no particular diagnosis, suggesting only that it was a good basketball game and Syracuse made the plays they needed to make. Against Villanova, Pitino pointed to poor free throw shooting (12-of-24), especially down the stretch, as the culprit. What were the difference-makers in the Georgetown game? Here are the three key factors that produced a Georgetown win:
- The Failure to Block Out and Aaron Bowen’s Acrobatic Tip-In — Pitino identified his team’s failure to block out as “the difference-maker.” Indeed, watching the game, you would not have guessed that Louisville was a strong defensive rebounding team and Georgetown a weak offensive rebounding team. But the Hoyas managed to score 13 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds. No offensive rebound was bigger than redshirt sophomore guard Aaron Bowen’s athletic putback to give the Hoyas a 52-50 lead with 3:36 remaining, a score that would prove to be the game-winning basket. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Bowen’s teammate Markel Starks. “When the shot went up, he just came out of nowhere… it was unbelievable.” It wasn’t the first time that Bowen’s aggressiveness on the glass paid off for the Hoyas. Late in the first half, after an 8-2 run by Louisville cut Georgetown’s lead to two, Bowen attacked the glass after a missed Starks jumper, and managed to knock the ball towards Nate Lubick, who converted a layup. Since the suspension of Greg Whittington, Bowen has found himself thrust into far more playing time than he’s ever had and on Saturday he made it pay off.
- The Starks-Siva Matchup — Louisville’s preseason All-American Peyton Siva finished with the following line: zero points on 0-of-2 FG shooting, zero rebounds, two assists, three turnovers, and four fouls in 23 minutes. Plagued by foul trouble, Siva was never able to develop a rhythm. By contrast, his foil, Starks, played with as much tenacity and confidence as ever. He was the Hoyas’ clear leader on the floor, repeatedly taking charge on offense and hitting several tough shots in the teeth of Louisville’s tough defense. But it was Starks’ gritty defensive performance leading the effort to contain Siva that earned his coach’s praise: “He hit big shots but probably more importantly, fighting over those ball screens, staying in front of their guards, getting back in front of their guards — it’s work. It’s hard work, and I thought he did that all night.” As Starks said in reflecting on his battle with Siva, “you don’t want to make it mano-a-mano, but at some point, you’ve gotta take pride in playing defense.”
- Louisville’s Poor Half-Court Offense — Louisville’s half-court offense struggled to score points in the run of play, particularly in the first half when all but five of their nine points came on fast breaks, putbacks, or free throws. Most distressingly, the Cardinals’ guards were tentative in attacking the basket. Though Russ Smith upped his aggressiveness in the second half, Louisville needs him and Siva to be even more assertive. They can’t get reliable points from feeding their post players, and their outside shooting is too inconsistent to sustain them. Moreover, when Louisville’s offense fails to put the ball in the bucket, it hinders their vaunted defense because, moreso than for other teams, the two are inextricably linked. The Cardinals generate points off turnovers with their pressing defense, but they need to make shots in order to set the press. After the game, Pitino revealed that the team’s poor field goal shooting percentage has him contemplating, for the first time in his career, pressing off of missed shots.
Despite being in relatively good spirits and fairly sanguine about his team’s performance, Pitino didn’t mince words when talking about the importance of Monday’s home tilt against Pittsburgh: “The KFC Yum! Center has gotta be much better than Syracuse, much better than Kentucky, because we have to get this win. It’s a must game for us. You’re on the verge of getting a sub-.500 record in the league, and you don’t want to mess with that.”