If you listen to University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, you’ll hear over and over again how his team needs to commit to playing tough defense. By doing so, you create offense he says. The fruits of that came to light Wednesday night as the 10th ranked Cardinals went to Chicago to face down rival DePaul 79-58 and sophomore forward Chane Behanan provided the exclamation point.
As per usual all season, the defending Big East champions had trouble finding the basket so they pressed on defense, making scrappy plays and forcing turnovers. Just the way the coach scripted it, right?
Then something special happened. The Cards led 21-16 after roaring back from an 8-0 deficit with DePaul looking like they wanted to hang with the kids in black. It was tough at the beginning of the game and that was expected because the Blue Demons always play Louisville tough. It’s a hallmark of the rivalry. Perhaps even tougher this time with Chicago Bulls Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxon in attendance.
Maybe Behanan knew that and maybe he didn’t. All he saw was a interceptable pass and a clear lane to the hoop. He extended for an explosive dunk over DePaul’s Worrel Clahar who stood in the lane trying to draw a charging foul.
The first whistle was indeed a charge, but officials reversed it to a blocking foul on Clahar because he was standing inside the restricted area arc. One step outside that semi-circle and Behanan’s highlight becomes just another foul in the game. As it ended up, the slam became the top play on ESPN’s SportsCenter program Thursday morning and initiated talk that it might be the dunk of the year.
DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell complained about the physicality of the game, saying it was worse than an NBA game. Apparently he forgot his team plays in the Big East. Physical is what the conference does. However, the NBA reference doesn’t go unnoticed. An NBA style posterizing dunk is how his team’s loss will be remembered.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton