CRAWFORD | Fair and foul: Six thoughts on Louisville's 91-83 win - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Fair and foul: Six thoughts on Louisville's 91-83 win at Virginia Tech

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Louisville freshman Raymond Spalding wrestles down a rebound in Wednesday's win at Virginia Tech. (AP photo) Louisville freshman Raymond Spalding wrestles down a rebound in Wednesday's win at Virginia Tech. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville basketball team knew going in that it would likely be involved in a foul-fest at Virginia Tech. That's how the Hokies have played this season, and they worked their free-throw magic on the Cardinals.

But Louisville did its damage from the next line back, making 12 of 18 shots from beyond the arc and getting 29 points on 6 of 7 from three from Damion Lee to hold off the Hokies 91-83 before a crowd of 7,084 in Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va.

It matched Louisville's best three-point performance on the road in the past 10 seasons (at Georgetown, 2009), and the Cardinals needed it, because they couldn't do anything with the Hokies defensively.

Virginia Tech, which is taking roughly one free throw for every two field goal attempts it has made this season (leading the nation), made 33 of 38 free throws on Wednesday night, but it could not find any answers in stopping the Cardinals, despite significant foul trouble along the front line for the visitors.

Hokies coach Buzz Williams said his team executed its game plan nearly flawlessly, but couldn't overcome Louisville's shooting.

"I apologized to the team," he said. "(I told them) you guys did everything I asked you to do. I thought you played with great heart and great energy. Three of those 12 three-point makes weren’t contested … but man, they hit some great shots.”

Chinanu Onuaku had two fouls before the game was four minutes old. He picked up his third early in the second half. He managed only 14 points (scoring 9 point and grabbing 5 rebounds). But the Cards got big-time play from Lee, and got 20 second-half points from Trey Lewis, who finished with 22, to improve to 17-3 overall and 6-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Their strategy was to put Nanu to the bench," Louisville coach Rick Pitino told Bob Valvano on his 1-TomDrexler Coaches' Corner radio postgame show by Learfield Sports. "Fortunately for us, Anas (Mahmoud) gave us a big lift and Matz (Stockman) gave us a big lift.

Buzz Williams said his team executed its game plan nearly perfectly. But it still wasn't enough.

Some takeaways from Louisville's win (click on the box score to enlarge):

1. LEE WAS LIGHTS OUT. You have to start with Damion Lee. He opened the game with a three-pointer, and sometimes when he makes that first one, you know it's going to be a big night. Every time the Cards needed an answer, whether it was when Virginia Tech edged ahead in the first half, or when it threatened in the second, Lee was there with a big three-pointer, or an assist.

Lee led the Cards with six assists, and though he also had five turnovers, he was the leader of the Louisville offense. He even made 11 of 12 free-throws.

Lee and the Cards wore out the left side of the court. He made one from the right wing. The team's 11 others all came from the left wing or baseline. (See the shot chart at left, with the combined shots of Lee and Trey Lewis, makes in green, misses in red, provided by ShotAnalytics.com. Click the image to enlarge).

2. PASSING GRADE. The stat of the game, other than the 12 made threes, was the assist total. It hasn't been a big number in recent games, but against Virginia Tech's defense, which clogged up the lane and looked to limit points in the paint, the Cards got the ball moving, made the extra pass, and it showed.

U of L wound up with 19 assists, and swing the ball for good looks from three-point range all night, particularly in the second half, when the Cardinals shot 59.1 percent. Quentin Snider had 5 assists and Jaylen Johnson had 3.

3. SECOND-HALF SUCCESS. Lewis was struggling the first half, and was lifted by Pitino after trying to force an early offensive rebound over three defenders. At halftime, Pitino shared with him a message he often gave to Russ Smith.

"If you will pout all your focus on passing and defense, you will make shots," Pitino told Valvano he said to Lewis. ". . . I told him if you'll just focus on catching and defense you'll catch fire, and he did in the second half.

Lewis finished with 22 points and made 4 of 7 from three-point range.

4. FRONT LINE BY COMMITTEE. With Onuaku sidelined by foul trouble, the Cardinals got 15 minutes, four points and three blocked shots from Anas Mahmoud. They got nine huge first-half minutes from Matz Stockman, who finished with four points, a rebound and a block. They got four points, and assist and a pair of rebounds in 11 minutes from Ray Spalding.

People want to know, after Anas has a good game, why I don't start him? Well, just what happened tonight. If Nanu gets in foul trouble, he has to play at the five. When Mangok comes back, maybe you could do that. But Jaylen's playing better, and he played well tonight.

Johnson had 11 points and 9 rebounds and appeared to injure his wrist late in the game, only to come back minutes later and score on a breakaway slam against the press. He was fouled on the play and put up a free throw that was a couple of feet short of the rim, but still turned in perhaps his best all-around performance as a Cardinal in 29 minutes played.

5. THE FREE THROWS. Louisville knew it was coming, but was powerless to stop it. Which meant, yet again, it had to win with offense. And again, it had enough offense to do the job.

"It's a very tough place," Pitino told Valvano. " . . . We had to win this game with offense because what they do is they just throw their body into you. And it's tough with the new rules, if they allow you to do that, which the referees are allowing, then you're defenseless. So we had to win this thing with offense. . . . They're a very smart team in taking advantage of defensive problems and isolations. So we started doing a better job. But we won this game on offense by making good plays, no question about that."

The other thing that helped Louisville, it was able to get to the line itself -- though about 10 of its free throws came when Virginia Tech started fouling late. Still, the Cardinals countered 33 of 38 free-throw shooting by the Hokies with 25 of 34 shooting of their own.

6. NO PRESS, NO PROBLEM. After three quick fast-break scores, Pitino abandoned the full-court press. Virginia Tech was beating it and attacking the small forward for easy baskets, and it wasn't going to be effective. Pitino has had to concede that this is not going to be a great steals team. It had only two at Virginia Tech. It's one of his better shot-blocking teams, but it isn't getting great pressure on the ball, and it doesn't contain players well on the drive.

Buzz said this is one of the best defensive teams I've had," Pitino told Valvano. "This wouldn't make my top five. This is a very good offensive team."

NEXT UP. The Cardinals face No. 11-ranked Virginia in the KFC Yum! Center at 1 p.m. Saturday on CBS.

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