Three Key Takeaways.
- Ugly Offense Favors the Medusa. I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed a team make eight field goals in a single half where seven of those were threes. Yet that’s what Louisville did in the first half, and remarkably, they led the game by five at the intermission. Neither team was going to set the other’s defense on fire in this slugfest, but the fact that Louisville was able to scrape up as much offense as it could find in the first half through perimeter shooting allowed it to stick around long enough to put together a game-winning run in the second half. When MSU started to see its own blood, they panicked a bit and lose composure — at that point, the game was over.
- Chane Behanan Makes Plays. If I had to pick a single Cardinal on the offensive end to highlight here, it would have to be the freshman Behanan. The do-everything forward was seemingly in the right place on a number of UL’s offensive possessions, finding put-back opportunities and steals when the Cards needed it most. In a tight defensive game like this one, ripping balls away from the burly and physical MSU big men to drop layups are game-winning plays, and that’s what Behanan did several times tonight.
- Pitino Has This Team Believing. They’re truly not that talented individually, and they have an awful lot of trouble putting the ball in the hole consistently, but Rick Pitino has done one of his best coaching jobs at Louisville in getting his players to buy in and believe in their system. If you think back to Pitino’s running-and-gunning teams at Providence and Kentucky, it’s rather ridiculous to think about a team of his playing possession-by-possession and favoring the halfcourt. Yet, that’s the reality and guys like Peyton Siva, Dieng, Behanan and the rest are making it work. He’s one win away from his sixth Final Four.
Star of the Game. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville. The Louisville center completely changed the complexion of the game with his defense tonight. His seven blocks and three steals had an awful lot to do with Michigan State’s horrific 28.6% shooting night. He also grabbed nine rebounds and even threw in his first trey of the season for good measure.
Quotable. “The whole game came down to, really, that they made those threes.” — Tom Izzo, referring to the first half where Louisville players like Jared Swopshire and Gorgui Dieng, players who do not usually shoot (or make) threes, did so.
What’s Next? Louisville will stick around two more days in the Valley of the Sun to await the winner of the Marquette-Florida game later tonight. Regardless of opponent, it would be difficult to figure that the Cardinals would be an underdog the way that they’re playing right now.