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Friars fall to Cards in Big East opener

Thursday, January 03, 2013


The old adage of “defense wins championships” was on full display Wednesday night in Louisville, KY.

While the 4th ranked Louisville Cardinals haven’t won anything yet, it’s pretty easy to see why they’re a favorite to not only win the Big East Conference, but perhaps a national championship as well…as they came roaring back from an early deficit to beat Providence 80-62.

The Friars started the game well, and grabbed Louisville’s attention early by scoring the first eight points, extending the lead to 13-3 with 16:21 still to play in the opening half. That’s when Louisville coach Rick Pitino pulled his team out of a 2-3 zone and went man-to-man defensively.

And the move worked to perfection. Perhaps suffering from a bit of post-Kentucky hangover – the Cards had beaten their rivals 80-77 over the weekend – the defense went to work and was relentless throughout.

With PC hanging in and holding a 24-20 lead with 7:17 left in the first, Louisville ripped off a 17-2 run over the next six-and-a-half minutes to seize control of matters just before halftime. That the Friars scored the final five points of the half to pull within six at the break (37-31) mattered little.

The tenor for the remainder of the game had been set. The tougher team would be the one to survive.

It was still a six-point Cardinal lead with 13:15 left when Louisville ripped off a second huge run – this time 14-0, extended to 18-2 – over the next six-and-a-half minutes to decide matters. The key to both decisive runs came from the Cards’ suddenly suffocating defense.

For the game, Louisville forced 16 PC turnovers and converted those into 27 points – a full third of what they scored on the night. The Cards are second nationally in turnover differential, and once the defense got moving, the offense soon followed. 21 of their 30 made field goals came from the paint, on fast breaks, in transition and in penetrating the Friar zone defense.

Louisville made just nine jump shots, seven of those were three’s. They have a lot of answers for just about anyone –and any team – they face this season.

Russ Smith led the Cardinals (13-1, 1-0 Big East) with a game high 23 points, while 6-11 junior center Gorgui Dieng contributed a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) in just his second game back from a broken wrist suffered earlier in the season. Kadeem Batts played well inside for PC, and led the Friars with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Bryce Cotton scored 16 after sitting out with a sore knee against Brown, but the Cardinal defense locked him up and limited his touches (five points) in the second half.

After opening Big East play on the road for the 11th time in the past 13 years, the Friars (8-5, 0-1 Big East) return to the Dunkin Donuts Center for their home opener Saturday against the DePaul Blue Demons. With their third loss in a row overall, it’s not too early to say Saturday might be a “must-win” to keep flickering hopes alive for success this season.

They have the blueprint to do it…they know what a championship team now looks like.

Friar Notes

Louisville placed five players in double figures, and shot 52% from the floor for the game – the highest mark against the Friars this season…LaDontae Henton was held to just seven points after his 37-point performance against Brown, but did lead PC on the backboards with 11 rebounds…the Friars shot 44% from the floor, 40% from three, and outrebounded the Cardinals 34-33, The difference came from the turnovers, and Louisville’s tenacious defensive effort…while the Cards are #2 nationally in turnover differential, they’re also second nationally in steals, averaging 11.5 per game. They had 10 against PC…the game was Providence’s 2nd trip to the KFC Yum! Center, having lost previously two years ago. It might also be their last…with the impending move by Louisville to the ACC, and the break-away of the Catholic schools from the Big East. PC has never beaten Louisville in Louisville…the Cardinals look poised for a run a big things this season, returning four starters from the Big East tournament title team a year ago that also reached the Final Four. As pre-season league favorites, Rick Pitino’s Cards have lost only a neutral site game to Duke (76-71 in the Bahamas), and that was when they were shorthanded without Gorgui Dieng in the lineup…Wednesday’s game marked the 15th time in the past three seasons Louisville has rallied from at least a nine-point deficit (they were down 10 in the first half) to win a game…


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