‘Cats lash out on Louisville

Joe Groglio

Rick Pitino is without a doubt one of the premier coaches in the country and one of the more successful in this generation, taking three different schools to the Final Four and winning a National Championship with Kentucky. So when one thinks of a Pitino coached squad, you’re talking about a team that will be disciplined, talented and impossible to put away. This resilience was in full form Monday night at the Wachovia Center as Villanova had to claw and scratch its way to a 79-73 victory that was even closer than the score suggests.

This season has not gone the way Louisville had hoped after a preseason top 10 ranking and some impressive early season play. Injuries and inexperience have led them to a 14-6 record going into Monday, including a shocking five Big East losses, leaving them fighting for a conference tournament berth, let alone the NCAA. But Louisville looked like every bit of the talented squad they were once heralded to be against ‘Nova, as they shot 60 percent from the field in the first half, including a shocking 69 percent from three point range.

“The game, especially the first half,was as well as we’ve played all year,” commented Pitino.

Senior guard Taquan Dean led the way with 17 points in the first half, a welcome sign from a player who had been fighting injuries all season long. David Padgett, the powerful center, added seven points. Unfortunately offense was not going to help them win this contest, as the Wildcats matched them shot for shot in an epic duel of shooters. Pitino described it best when saying, “Villanova makes a mockery of everything I try to do defensively, it’s ridiculous.”

Ridiculous it was on this night, as the ‘Cats would knock down 14 of 26 three pointers, many of them answering back big shots by the Cardinals. Senior Allan Ray led all scorers with 26 points, and he described his outing by saying, “A lot of our shots fell early on, which gave me and Mike [Nardi] the confidence to continue shooting, and my shots were just right and felt good.”

Randy Foye was equally unstoppable in the first half, compiling 17 points on his own, as well as making key passes to set up the other members of this four guard offense. On the game Ray and Foye, along with Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry, would combine to score 73 of the ‘Cats 79 points.

“The game is changing as there are no more true centers in college basketball, making a lineup like theirs not only possible but ethical as well; you have to put your best five out there as much as you can.”, said Pitino.

The ‘Cats also dominated the boards, which is not typical. Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark were key to this effort, as well as a tremendous defensive performance from Will Sheridan. But another key was the ability of the guards to collect long rebounds off their missed shots.

Coach Wright said, “Quickness counts in rebounds, and we are as quick as anyone in the country.”

The freshmen were executing so well that Jason Fraser was not used in the second half as the game became more of a perimeter battle.

Louisville hung in the game until the bitter end. The Cadinals pulled within a basket late in the game, but a steal by Randy Foye and a series of made foul shots put a wrap on the game. “It was an exciting game, and I can’t really blame my guys because we played as well as we’ve played and got our tempo back, our effort was just matched by a greater effort tonight,” said Pitino.

As usual, foul shots were key for the ‘Cats, who nailed 15 of 21 including all of the crucial late shots. Another key to this game was the play of Kyle Lowry, who dished out six assists and scored eight points but also provided great defense and toughness on the floor. Nardi had perhaps his best game of the season on what was his birthday, scoring 20 points including five three-pointers. And the performance on defense of Cunningham and Clark was a welcome sign, as the two combined for nine rebounds and were a key in making sure big men Juan Palacios and David Padgett couldn’t take over the game inside.

This win puts the Wildcats at 16-2 heading into a Saturday showdown with a hot Marquette team at the Pavillion, with a win a move into the top 5 is very likely. Louisville drops to 14-7 with this loss, and needs to go on a serious run to make the Big East tournament. Pitino was encouraged however as he said, “I like our chances; we need to win our remaining four home games and then go to the Garden and pick up a few. We aren’t giving up on this season; the only ones chanting NIT are the crowd.”

Coach Wright offered more encouraging words for Louisville as he said, “Any team that plays that hard and can play that type of game will be there come tournament time. I have full faith that we will be seeing this team again down the road.”

After seeing this game, no opposing coach will be looking forward to contests with either of these teams. This new Big East is giving everyone the high level of competition that was expected, and one thing is for sure, the Wildcats and their quartet of guards aren’t a question mark anymore. The only question is how anyone can slow down this powerful squad that will without a doubt have a major role in the chase for a national title come March.