The question on the minds of University of Louisville Cardinal (20-5, 8-4 Big East) basketball fans had to be: how would their team respond after a 65 minute, 5 overtime heartbreaker of a loss to Notre Dame. They found out on Valentine's Day at the KFC Yum! Center against the visiting St. John's Red Storm (15-10, 7-6). For the Cards, spirits were high and hearts were full and they left the court with the 72-58 victory.
It wasn't like you could expect love between the Big East foes who played late to accommodate the ESPN "Rivalry Week" schedule. That was a stretch. Yes, the two teams play each other by virtue of sharing the same conference, but calling them rivals made the Worldwide Leader look a little silly to the knowledgeable Cardinal faithful.
This St. John's team also had the hardest to address Valentine's Cards with sophomore starter Sir'Dominic Pointer and redshirt senior God'sgift Achiuwa on their squad. Take that Montrezl "Silent L" Harrell.
On the court, though, the Red Storm can block shots. They rank second in the nation. The Cards post players could have been in for a long night. Luckily for Card Nation the opposite happened with Louisville scoring 32 of their points in the pain.
The first half ended up being a sloppy affair at times. The Cardinal defense bothered St.John's most of the half. On the opposite end, Louisville had trouble finding the basket and not because of the Red Storm defense, which was token at best.
St. John's led at one point in the first half, but Louisville would put together a run to go up by a few. Then came long stretches of poor execution and bad luck. At home, you’re supposed to get the roll but that wasn’t happening a lot. The Cards did end up puting it together at the end of the half to go up 32-23 at the break.
The Red Storm played themselves back into the game in the second half briefly, but they had to contend with something they didn't have to in the first stanza: Russ Smith. St. John's was able to contain him in the first half giving up only 3 points. But as most Big East teams know, he gets his love. The junior shooting guard finished with 24 point, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. But the stat that made his coach happy: zero turnovers.
The game nearly got ugly midway through the second half and with the Red Storm down by double digits. A scuffle broke out between St. John's Pointer and Louisville's Harrell. Rather than showing each other affection they did some pushing and it resulted in a double technical as their gift.
"I don't think I coached a good game," coach Rick Pitino said afterwards. He said he's playing Gorgui Dieng too many minutes and that's why his shot blocking numbers are down. Even with that, Dieng scored another double-double with 10 points and 17 rebounds.
For St. John's, Phil Green IV led his team with 21 points and D'Angelo Harrison finished with 18. No other Red Storm player contributed significantly. They didn't get any joy from the free throw line either only firing 7 times. The Cards, conversely, had 30 shots from the line.
Senior point guard Peyton Siva showed some renewed aggression for Louisville, pouring in 12 points on 4 for 9 shooting. His 6 assists stood out as well as he spread the love.
The Cardinals travel to Tampa Sunday for a rematch with the University of South Florida. Back in January, Louisville clubbed them pretty handily 64-38. The Bulls will look to even the score at their 1:02pm tipoff.
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton