Louisville senior Luke Hancock said the Cards need to make "a lot of changes," to make a post-season run this year.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When the University of Louisville basketball team was beaten for the first time this season by North Carolina, it was safe to say it was early – Nov. 24. Rick Pitino will clean up everything. He usually does.
When the Cardinals lost again at Kentucky in December, it was reasonable to point at the dateline. The game was played in Rupp Arena. The visiting team is not supposed to win in Lexington.
When U of L stumbled for the third time against Memphis three weeks ago, you heard that it was simply the Tigers' night. They made shots from the Second Street Bridge. It happens.
Thursday night Cincinnati came into the KFC Yum! Center and defeated Louisville, 69-66.
That makes four Top 25 opponents – and four defeats. That's not something that happens. That's a trend. That's a blemish on the Cardinals' NCAA Tournament resume that will be difficult to hide.
Here's what it is time to say:
Rick Pitino has not fixed what's wrong. Two of these losses were not in Rupp Arena. Good teams can score the baskets they need to score to beat Louisville. Closing out games is a problem for this group. They're 2-4 in games decided by 10 points or less.
This team has flaws, flaws that UNC, Kentucky, Memphis and Cincinnati have exposed – and nobody considers those teams one- or two-seeds for the NCAA Tournament.
"We've got to make a lot of changes and get a lot better if we want to make that run and do what we've done the last couple years," Louisville forward Luke Hancock said.
Is it possible? Sure. If you're paying attention, you see crazy scores in college basketball every night. Louisville was 5-3 in January two seasons ago. Remember Providence 90, Louisville 59? That season ended in the Final Four.
The Cards delivered another 5-3 record in January 2013. Remember Villanova 73, Louisville 64. You know where last season ended.
But this season has a different taste than the last two. The 2012 team had beaten a Vanderbilt team that won the SEC Tournament and also handled Memphis. The 2013 team beat Kentucky, Missouri and Memphis by this point in the season.
I'll give you 15 seconds to fill in this blank. The best team Louisville has beaten this season is ( )?
Need more time for research? I understand.
Pitino isn't any closer to finding a center than he was in November. Only recruiting will fix what's wrong. Mangok Mathiang and Stephan Van Treese combined to play 39 minutes. They took one shot – a tip by Van Treese. They did not make any.
After Louisville roared back from a 17-point hole to take the lead in the second half, the Bearcats went back ahead with 1:41 to play on a put back by Justin Jackson. Cincinnati outrebounded the Cards by 11. They have been outrebounded in all four defeats.
"It's been our Achilles' heel all year," Van Treese said. "It's been frustrating. especially with me being a big guy. It falls on our shoulders. We didn't succeed tonight."
Everybody will dwell on the final two minutes, when the Cards were outscored 6-2. Sorry. That is not when Louisville lost the game.
They lost it in the first 12 minutes when they only scored seven points, missing shots and stacking turnover after turnover. Cincinnati made Louisville play the Bearcats' game, instead of U of L making Cincinnati play the Cardinals' game.
"We weren't aggressive enough," Hancock said. "You just can't play how you want. You really have to go at their defense a certain type of way to score points. I think we played about two minutes in the first half the way we wanted to."
The beginning of the second half wasn't much better. Cincinnati started the final 20 minutes by hitting six of its first seven. The Bearcats shot better than 63 percent in the second half, a statistic that Pitino could be heard yelling from his office after he finished a brief media session that was punctuated with a string of one-word answers.
"We had them rattled and we let the game get away from us," Pitino said.
No wonder the Bearcats led 44-27. No wonder the Bearcats won, moving to 9-0 in the league, 2 ½ games ahead of Louisville. Cincinnati has already won five of its nine road games in the American Athletic Conference. Louisville will need king-sized help to win the league now.
"So many little things could have won us the game," Hancock said. "We should have turned it on earlier. You've got to come out from the get-go to beat a team like that."
"If the ball goes through, it's a different game," said Russ Smith, the Cards' senior guard. "We'll just have to do what we've been doing the past Februarys, go on a roll."
Except in past seasons, the Cards had already shown they were capable of going on a roll. They have not supplied a bit of proof this season.