On paper, the top ranked University of Louisville Cardinals (16-2, 4-1 Big East) and the number 6 Syracuse Orange (17-1, 5-0) are about as even a match up as you’ll find in college basketball. Saturday’s game in the KFC Yum! Center reflected that as it went down to the wire and ended in Louisville's second loss of the season, dropping a close one 70-68.
Going into the game, both teams had identical records and were within statistical error margins on every important number that basketball teams are judged by so to have a close game didn’t surprise anyone.
This was also as animated a crowd as has ever been heard in a non-Kentucky game as they cheered every favorable call and sometimes lapsed into the profane when they thought they were wronged. That happened often.
Neither team built up large leads and the defensive battle came down to the Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone versus the Rick Pitino full court press. "It was a great college basketball game," coach Pitino said in his press conference after the game. In fact he said that exact sentence twice which was an even tempered mask to cover his frustration with the officiating.
The coach usually doesn’t talk about the referees but he mentioned them specifically this time which is a Pitino equivalent to jumping up and down and screaming at the top of his lungs. The Cardinal faithful weren’t the only ones who thought they were wronged.
On the positive side, Russ Smith played like his Russdiculous self, leading all scorers with 25 points while his compatriot Peyton Siva struggled from the field, hitting only one shot all game. No other Cardinal scored in double figures. Chane Behannan helped keep the Cards in the game by pulling down 11 rebounds. Gorgui Dieng grabbed 8.
On the other side, Syracuse's Brandon Triche poured in 23 points of his own, mostly in the first half. In fact, the Orange shot nearly 61% from the field in the first half, but the Cards played hard and the score was knotted at 38 at halftime.
Both teams struggled to find their shot in the second half with Louisville shooting a dismal 29%. That came mostly from bad shooting from the usually reliable Gorgui Dieng and from Siva.
With both teams leaving the Big East, the Orange this year and the Cards next year, this game gets a rematch in the regular season and more than likely in Madison Square Garden in one of the final Big East tournaments that will matter.
Meanwhile, Louisville must regroup. They’ll lose their number one ranking come Monday, but have to get themselves ready to play at Villanova on Tuesday.
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton