It was a chance at payback for the 10th ranked University of Louisville basketball Cardinals (24-5, 12-4 Big East) as they traveled to New York to take on the 12th ranked Syracuse University Orange (22-7, 10-6) at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Cuse stole a win earlier this year at the KFC Yum! Center when Louisville was ranked number one so the Cards were looking for redemption. They also wanted to find a way to close the season undefeated and now they have a good shot at it as they beat the men in orange, 58-53.
The game started fairly even which was good news for Louisville since the road hasn’t been kind to the Cards all season because they always start out so tight. But with the caliber of talent in each line up, you knew both teams would settle down and get into their own rhythms.
Louisville's first run was 9-0 as they seemed to be determined not to have a let down affect this game that way it did the first time they played. You could see it in the way Gorgui Dieng looked to take over the game with his jump shot and his moves to the basket.
Both teams shot a poor percentage in the first half. Louisville hit on just 31% and Syracuse just 27.3% so defense was the way to keep it close. That's a place Dieng made his presence felt, too The Senegal native let the Orange know that nothing would be easy inside while Russ Smith and Peyton Siva kept picking pockets on the wings.
Play for Louisville got sloppy toward the end of the first half and let the Orange close the gap to 23-19 before going into the break. Even though it was a 4 point lead, it felt like it should be more because the Cardinals outplayed the home team. In fact, the 19 points were a season low for Syracuse in the first half.
Siva continued his struggles against the Orange, going scoreless for the entire game and never once drawing enough contact to even go to the free throw line. No one can seem to figure out why he has trouble with this team, but it’s plagued his entire college career.
In the second half, Syracuse got all their 2-foul guys who spent time on the bench in the first stanza back into the game. As a result, the Orange played a tougher. To counteract, Louisville hit shots at a better rate. Smith started that off as did Wayne Blackshear, who had been way too quiet for his first 20 minutes.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton
A 7-0 run from the Orange put them in the lead briefly which brought fans in the Carrier Dome to their feet. The other storyline was how Louisville committed more fouls in the first few minutes than most of the first half. While there is no proof, it looked like the officials had heard a few too many complaints from coach Jim Boeheim and called some just to shut him up. It's a typical coaching move and Boeheim is famous for whining.
James Southerland kept Cuse in it with crucial triples, but Louisville could answer from NBA range with Luke Hancock, who looks so much more comfortable in the second half of the season with his stroke. Down low Dieng kept attacking the rim to get those critical points in the paint.
Coach Rick Pitino kept Siva on the bench and let Smith run the point with Hancock and Ware as the other ball handlers and it worked for a long time as Louisville maintained a slim lead and even on the lead changes, they kept Syracuse from breaking away. Siva came back in the game with a little over 3 minutes left. As soon as he did, the Orange went up by one.
Hancock, the recipient of the worst call Pitino had ever seen (his mouthed words with a choice expletive included), hit a triple late to give the Cards the lead for good. Kevin Ware earned his minutes with good play including a steal with 30 seconds to go. He nailed 2 clutch free throws with 12 seconds to go to seal the win.
For the Cards, Smith led the way with 18 points and 5 assists. Hancock had 12 on 4-of-5 three point shooting. Dieng provided the inside muscle with a double-double: 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Louisville has a quick turnaround as they play at the KFC Yum! Center on Monday against arch nemesis Cincinnati. That game tips at 7pm.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton