LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There’s no need for a check of social media or a text from a prominent booster or even (forgive me) a check-in on the postgame radio shows to know that something was a bit out of kilter for the No. 13-ranked University of Louisville basketball team on Tuesday night in the KFC Yum! Center.
The Cardinals came into a game against Miami carrying a two-game losing streak, including an overtime setback to their biggest rival and a double-digit home loss in conference, and got out to a 19-point lead after 13 ½ minutes against the Hurricanes Tuesday.
Then they sleep-walked through the rest of a less-than-comfortable 74-58 victory, pulling away late after their lead dwindled to five points with just under five minutes to play.
The win stops the Cardinals’ mini-skid, but it won’t do much to alleviate concerns about a team that has struggled at the guard position and defensively since the competition started to ratchet up just before the holiday break. The final score looks fine, but issues remain.
"I think any time you come off two straight defeats, I think there is a time where you battle a little confidence," Louisville coach Chris Mack said. "I thought we came out ready to go the last four or five minutes in the first half, as I told my team, 'we have to figure out why we are good, what makes us good?' I thought we lost that at the end of the first half. Once we did that, Miami felt like they were right there. They came out and played with a lot of confidence in the second half."
Maybe it was playing just one game in 17 days to finish December, or the letdown of a few losses after reaching No. 1 in the nation, but the Cardinals were in dire need of answers heading into Tuesdays game. They didn’t emerge with too many.
"It's a little odd to say the least," Mack said of the team's late December schedule. "I mean you play, you're in here in January and you have six, seven days off. It's a little odd, but, contrary to some I don't make the schedule."
Jordan Nwora had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Steven Enoch had 12 points and 10 boards and Dwayne Sutton had nine points and 13 rebounds. Louisville also got 10 points from Darius Perry and Malik Williams.
But the Cards, after gaining their big lead, gave up some three-pointers to let Miami hang in the game, then struggled to contain dribble penetration in the second half until Perry came through in the final minutes.
Miami going cold at the end, along with some big baskets by Perry and a timely three by Ryan McMahon, helped put things away for the Cards.
"Darius did a great job. He's been playing a little more off the ball but the value of him being able to play both on and off the ball showed tonight," Mack said. "He was, by far, our best point guard. I think at times that position gets maligned for us. We may have to do it by committee. Each of those guys have shown, during different periods of time, that they can do the job. They just haven't been consistent like we need them to be. It was great to see Darius, as a junior, step up and make some plays down the stretch. Not just on the offensive end, but also on the defensive end. . . . I really liked how (McMahon) played with some emotion and some fire. I think he needs to do that. This is his senior year, and you only get one senior year."
Miami, which was coming off a 33-point loss at Duke, fell to 9-5, 1-3 in the ACC. Louisville, which visits Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, is 12-3, 13-1.
"Tthe league is different this year than it has been in quite some time - since I've been in the conference," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "We had 13 all-conference players move on and graduate, go to the pros. So there are a lot of new faces. One of the advantages that Louisville has is, they've got an older veteran team. Just look at their ages. 22, 22, 23, 23, 23. I got guys on my team still 17 years old. We have a fourth-year player in Sam Waardenburg who is 20. So, he's three years younger than a guy he was going against. And anybody that follows college basketball knows, experience means a lot. Age means a lot. It's normally those guys that carry the load, and that's what you see in Louisville. It doesn't mean they're going to beat every team, but they're going to be right there."
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