CRAWFORD | Louisville hangs on to beat Omaha despite 'embarrassing' second half
Louisville opened a 20-point lead in the early minutes of the second half against Omaha, but couldn't finish off the Horizon League visitors, holding on for an 87-78 victory.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Games like these are the kind that could end honeymoons, if David Padgett had ever gotten the luxury of one during his whirlwind post-Pitino ascension at the University of Louisville.
Louisville came into Friday’s game a 27 ½-point favorite against Omaha, a team playing without two starters, a team that lost by 19 points at Oklahoma and 32 at New Mexico, a team which now has flown on 10 different airplanes in 10 days.
But at the end of Friday’s game, it was Omaha that looked as if it were flying up and down the court and Louisville looked grounded.
The final score was Louisville 87, Omaha 78. But the second-half score is the one that concerned Padgett: Omaha 53, Louisville 47.
PHOTO GALLERY | Omaha at Louisville
“We played 20 minutes of pretty darn good basketball,” he said, “and we played 20 minutes of embarrassing basketball.”
Several times during a 12-0 Omaha run in a 1:46 span that pulled the Mavericks within 71-64 with 5:45 to play, Padgett looked as if he’d reached his breaking point. He lifted senior guard Quentin Snider in favor of freshman Darius Perry, looking for more urgency at the point. He started utilizing his bench when he saw mistakes.
Padgett has been a coach of great patience during these difficult transitional weeks for Louisville basketball. Some of it appeared to wear out during the second half.
“I told them at halftime, ‘We’re up 15, but if you guys relax and don’t come out ready to play in the second half, this team will catch you guys,’” Padgett said. “Luckily they didn’t. But they almost did.”
Omaha generated 27 points – more than a third of its scoring – off of 17 Louisville turnovers. The Cardinals were only able to turn Omaha over 10 times. After the Cards’ defense held the Mavericks to 36 percent shooting in the first half, they got 46.7 percent shooting in the second, and made 6 three-point baskets.
The numbers don’t look terrible. Louisville held a 53-41 edge on the glass, held Omaha to 36 percent shooting for the game and scored 52 points in the paint.
But the Cardinals, after twice giving themselves the opportunity to land a knockout blow, appeared to retreat and let an opponent off the mat. And to Omaha’s credit, it got back up.
“We were a little bit more resilient tonight than we have been,” Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said. “We didn’t quite have that fight when someone got up 20 on us, like say at Oklahoma. Our huddles are getting better. Our leadership is coming. It’s funny, when you make some baskets, the energy starts to come.”
Louisville got 21 points from Deng Adel and 19 from Ray Spalding, who also had 11 rebounds. It got 10 rebounds, seven of them in the game’s final nine minutes, from Dwayne Sutton, and it needed every one of them down the stretch. The Cards made 19 of 22 free throws and are now shooting better than 76 percent from the line in two games.
The Cardinals also blocked 15 shots, the most in any game since 2003.
During that timeout, when Omaha had pulled within seven and Padgett was agitated, he sat his team down and explained what had gone wrong.
“I just told them, look guys, I warned you about this,” he said. “We were just trading baskets. It’s as simple as that. You can’t play a team like this that way because they can score in such a hurry. They came out in the second half and hit six threes. Luckily we were doing a fairly good job of throwing the ball inside and scoring around the rim, but we’ve got to learn how to play with a lead. It’s as simple as that. When you’re up 20, 15, whatever it is, you just can’t relax. You’ve got to expand that lead even more. It’s a learning lesson, but we’ve just got to move on.”
Perry, again, gave Louisville a lift late, and went 5-for-5 from the line.
Padgett acknowledged that until his team fixes a problem covering the high ball screen, opponents are going to run it and exploit it, driving into the middle of the defense. He’s working on installing a zone, but that’s a work in progress. And in any event, the on-ball defense has to improve.
“Way too many blow-bys,” Padgett said. “At the end of the day, it’s a team effort, and we have a lot of stuff to do to get better as a team.”
Perry finished with nine points. Malik Williams, who got his first college start in place of Anas Mahmoud, finished with eight, as did V.J. King. Snider had seven points and four assists. Omaha had four starters score in double-figures.
The Cards resume play Tuesday night at home against Southern Illinois. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
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