During Monday’s 97th meeting between the 8th ranked University of Louisville basketball Cardinals (25-5, 13-4 Big East) and the Cincinnati Bearcats (20-10, 8-9) showed two teams going in opposite directions during the death throes of the Big East Conference. The Cards are riding high on a winning streak as they try to close out the season and get the double-bye in the conference tournament. Cincy wants to win to close out their season. The Cardinals reached their goal by winning 67-51.
The Bearcats have had an okay season but in their last victory over a top 25 Marquette team, they’d gone 5-5 with losses to ranked teams Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Notre Dame. Meanwhile, in that same stretch, the Cards have gone 8-4 with a win over Marquette, a split with Syracuse and a chance to split with Notre Dame later this week.
So when ESPN came to town for the Big Monday event, the stage was set for a showdown. Cincinnati defends well, but Louisville is the best in the country. The Bearcats struggle to score but the Cards are better, if only by a little.
And to add to the multiple storylines, Cincy coach Mick Cronin served as associate head coach in Louisville under Rick Pitino in 2002 and 2003 making it another student vs. the master game. As long as Pitino has coached, that’s going to keep happening. And then there’s one more. Coach Pitino was going for his 300th victory as Louisville’s coach.
Senior point guard Peyton Siva set the tone early, driving the lane and finishing at the rim in direct contrast to his performance in Saturday’s Syracuse game. The game plan seemed to be to let the guards take over the game so Siva and his backcourt mate Russ Smith kept the Bearcat defense hopping.
Cincinnati countered with great three point shooting. That’s one of those patterns against Louisville. Teams that do so-so from the arc seem to put it in against the Cardinals, this time to the tune of 6 of 14 for their long range shooting. It’s what kept them in the game because Louisville outplayed them on both sides of the court. Siva led everyone in the first half with 11 points after not scoring at all on Saturday. Smith was right behind him with 10.
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton
Louisville came out cold in the second half which gave Cincinnati a chance to come back and tie the score. Then the subs went on a tear. Montrezl Harrell, Luke Hancock, Kevin Ware and Stephan Van Treese made plays and got the entire arena buzzing.
Cincinnati’s halftime adjustment was to stop Siva after he torched them in the first half. That much was clear. That strategy proved effective because Siva didn’t score again in the game and found himself in foul trouble. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, the Cardinals are a deep team and didn’t seem to skip a beat.
And while they stopped Louisville’s senior point guard, they didn’t stop Pitino’s halftime adjustments, which involved tougher defense. How tough? Cincy shot 29.2% in the second half, didn’t hit a single three pointer after the break and only scored 20 second half points. Bearcat star Cashmere Wright scored 15 points but only 7 in the second half.
Gorgui Dieng played like the potential first round NBA draft choice that coach Pitino thinks he can be: 11 points and 9 rebound. He was a force inside, making Bearcat players think twice before going inside.
The Cards shot selection improved as well. They fired 54.2% for the second half, getting 42 total points in the paint, 16 second chance points and 16 off the fast break. Easy buckets like that will always make your stats look good.
Next up for Louisville comes this Saturday in a Senior Day showdown with Notre Dame. This will be the follow up to the 5 overtime thriller from February in South Bend. The final game of the regular season tips off at the KFC Yum! Center at 4pm.
Photos: Louisville.com/Tim Girton