The Louisville Cardinals have six more games to continue building an already impressive tournament resume. Their latest win against #12 Syracuse on Saturday epitomized what kind of team the Cardinals can be come tournament time. On a day where Louisville celebrated the 25th anniversary of the 1986 National Championship team, the Cards honored the past by generating excitement for the future.
In their 73-69 win, the Cardinals showed flashes of a team that can run with anyone in the nation; an accomplishment that most critics (including Rick Pitino) thought was at least a year away. Louisville shot lights out for most of the game and shot a solid 48% from beyond the arc. Most of those shots were taken by senior guard Preston Knowles and junior guard Kyle Kuric. The two combined made 12 of 19 three-point attempts and scored 45 of Louisville’s 73 points.
It’s no secret that Louisville is a team that appreciates long-range shooters but it was the effectiveness of the inside game that makes the Cards scary heading into March. Junior Terrence Jennings played 34 quality minutes while accumulating 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals. Once freshman center Gorgui Dieng returns from injury, the Cardinals will have a formidable frontcourt that can supplement an already scary backcourt.
Another staple that could carry Louisville deep into the tournament is their ability to utilize their speed on defense to jumpstart their offense. The Cardinals stole the ball from the Orange 12 times and caused 15 total turnovers that led to numerous fast break opportunities. Louisville busted the doors open in the final 5:40 of the first half by going on a 21-4 run. The Cards high pressure defense was able to keep Kris Joseph is check as well, holding him to only 9 points and forcing him to turn the ball over 3 times.
“Our press heated them up,” Kuric said. “We got some turnovers, came down and got some open shots”
Furthermore, the Cards are about to get healthy at the right time. Junior forward Rakeem Buckles made his first game appearance in six weeks after breaking his left index finger. His presence will give the Cards a much-needed boost down the stretch. Not to mention, Buckles is the only active power forward on the Cardinals roster.
“I felt good, I had a lot of fun out there,” Buckles said. “But I’m nowhere close to where I need to be. I’ve got to get back, get better.”
Out of the remaining six games, three of Louisville’s opponents are ranked in the top 25 including the biggest game of the year against Big East leader #4 Pitt on February 27th at the KFC Yum! Center. The Cards next game is Wednesday at Cincinnati at 7:00pm EST.
About the Author
Written by John Buffone
John was born in Rural Valley, Pennsylvania. He attended Clarion University and received a degree in Mass Media Arts and Journalism. He currently hosts "The Sports Zone with John Buffone" on AM 1380 WTYM in Kittanning, PA. John is also a sports columnist for the Kittanning Paper and a contributor to Examiner.com, and CatholicSportsJournal.com.