LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This was a Big East-style basketball game, a throwback for a program with nobody on the court who remembers the physical brawls that came with that storied league. 

At times, it showed.

In the end of Sunday’s 79-77 loss to Seton Hall, Louisville on too many possessions just wasn’t strong enough with the ball. In the game’s final minutes, Louisville couldn’t stop the Pirates on defense and coughed up too many possessions on offense.

When Quentin Snider’s open three-pointer bounced off the rim in the closing seconds, the Cards had suffered their second straight loss, this one coming before a crowd of 19,244 in the KFC Yum! Center.

Different opponents, but very similar scenarios for the Cardinals. They have not played anything close to their potential in the past two games, yet had a chance to win the game in the final minutes of both games against experienced teams that have been in the national rankings this season.

The key stat in this one was field goals attempted. Seton Hall took 68 shots, Louisville took 57. In an otherwise even game, that, along with a turnover disparity of 16-12, can be enough to tip the scale, even though Louisville outrebounded the Pirates, made one more three-pointer, outscored them by three at the foul line and by one in points off turnovers. The Cards also held a 26-3 edge in bench points.

“It’s two games in a row now where we’ve worked too hard to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Padgett said. “What I mean by that is, we work on defense, we get a stop, we get a rebound and we just come right down and get a turnover and give the ball to them. And it seems like most of our turnovers are what I call a Pick 6 where there’s no defense for it, they get a back-tip, we lose the ball and there’s no defense for it, we can set our defense and they just score. You have to give them credit. Obviously, that’s a Top 25 team that came in here and beat us. But we have to take better care of the basketball – 16 turnovers is too many for us.”

Five thoughts on the Cardinals’ loss, which ended a streak of 22 straight non-conference wins in the KFC Yum! Center, and was just their second home-court non-conference loss in their past 60 games:

1). TURNOVER PROBLEM. It isn’t that Seton Hall turned Louisville’s turnovers into so many points – the Cardinals actually outscored the Pirates 17-16 off turnovers, it’s the timing of the turnovers and the lost opportunities they represented.

If Louisville runs its offense and gets a shot, chances are pretty good it would score. It shot 49 percent in this game. But when it has a turnover every fifth possession – which it did on Sunday – that robs it of chances.

The bigger problem on the turnovers, as I see it, is where the turnovers are coming from. And the turnovers, three-quarters of them in this game, came from three players who need to have the ball and be productive offensively for Louisville.

Deng Adel had four turnovers, as did V.J. King and Ray Spalding. Adel had a good offensive night, 20 points on 7-12 shooting. And King had 14 points. But Spalding had only 2 points in 17 minutes.

Louisville went up 59-52 on a King three-pointer with 11:33 to play. By the time they made another shot, they’d turned the ball over five times, and trailed by three.

As happened when Louisville had a short second-half lead at Purdue, the Cards appeared to get in a hurry offensively, and had a couple of careless possessions.

“I don’t think there’s an easy fix for it,” Padgett said. “It’s not a situation where you can say, ‘OK you’ve got to put this guy here, this guy here, this guy here.’ It’s just a matter of being stronger with the ball. . . . We’ve got to take a long, hard look at it.”

2. PASSING PROBLEM. The Cards shot 49 percent on Sunday, but had only eight assists. That’s a lot of one-on-one baskets. They fell behind early in the game because their ball movement was nearly non-existent.

And they committed some turnovers because they attacked a set defense before reversing the ball or forcing it to move at all.

Padgett placed the blame more on not getting the ball into the paint, and he may be right, but either way, players are creating too much of their own offense and not enough for others.

That’s not the way the season began, and it’s not what this offense is designed to do.

“Once you get the ball in the lane that’s when you kick the ball out for your threes,” Padgett said. “Your jump shot has to come off dribble penetration. You can’t just have jump shots coming from passing the ball around the perimeter. We did a better job of that. We shot 54 percent in the second half. But they had 35 shots in the second half and we had 28. Again, it’s those turnovers that are absolutely killing us right now.”

3. PAINT PROBLEMS. The Cards were outscored in the paint, 40-26. In the second half, they attempted only seven field goals in the paint. Spalding, Mahmoud and Malik Williams combined for five points.

Seton Hall was determined to score in the paint, even if it had a height disadvantage. With its interior players, Louisville needs to develop some of that determination.

“That’s our DNA,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “We’re going to scrap. We’re going to fight. We throw it in to Angel (Delgado) a ton. We post up Desi (Rodriguez). We drive. So even though they had good length, Mahmoud’s done a great job, Spalding’s obviously long, but they’re not physically imposing. We weren’t going to change the fact that we were going to attack the rim.”

4. DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS. You look at this team’s stats, and it is playing adequate defense for long stretches. It’s not giving up a high percentage from three-point range. Its defensive effort at Purdue was exemplary.

At times, watching this team, you feel as if it’s giving up too many easy baskets, but then you look at the field goal percentages and it really isn’t.

What this team has struggled with in these two losses is putting together defensive runs, or stopping teams in crucial moments. Sometimes, however, it will make big stops, only to negate them with inefficiency on the offensive end.

This has become a far tougher defensive team the past two games, despite the losses.

It lapsed late in this one, giving up scores on seven straight Seton Hall possessions in the final 5:39. You let a team score seven straight in a tight game, you’re lucky to be close when the final horn sounds. Louisville actually had a shot to win. Snider’s three was makeable, but he was just 1-for-6 from three-point range when he took it. I’m not going to second guess the shot. If he makes it, he’s a hero. And it’s a shot he can make.

Louisville has made it a point of pride to take away an opponent’s best player. In this game, it did noting to take away Desi Rodriguez, who scored 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting, and had four steals.

The team is improving defensively, but needs to be consistently tougher down the stretch of games.

5. PADGETT PROBLEM? Don’t go there. At least, I’m not going to go there. You’ll hear the grumbling after back-to-back losses. The team could be playing better, but so could many teams who have coaches who have been at this for years.

Padgett went small with his lineup on Sunday, leaving Spalding on the bench for most of the second half. But when the dust had cleared, his team still had a shot to win the game in a game where it didn’t play its best. The raw material is still there. So there’s no need to panic.

This is always what the season was going to be. A long process of the team learning to win and improve under a new set of coaches who were handed a bad situation with no time to prepare for it.

“I watched all five (Louisville) games,” Willard said after this one. “I have watched a lot and talked a lot to David. It’s an unbelievably hard situation that David’s been put in, and they put the right guy in this position. He’s a former player. He’s a three-time captain. He comes from a basketball family. He’s a first-class person. I think David has done a phenomenal job and will continue to do a phenomenal job. I think for what the city has gone through, for what the university has gone through and most importantly what those players have gone through, David is the right guy.”

All this coaching staff and group of players can do is keep working and keep improving. The past two games prove they aren’t there yet. Nobody thought they were. They also, however, show that, despite all the self-inflicted issues of the past two games, they’re not all that far away.

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