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    Bit to Do

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    How do you write the story of two teams who should never have reached the Elite Eight? How do you put the thoughts together as one team advanced to the Final Four with a chance to play for the national championship? That’s the challenge as the University of Louisville basketball Cardinals took on Michigan State Sunday afternoon at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. The game ended up in overtime, which gave extra time to figure out the narrative and Louisville fell to Michigan State 76-70.

    Much has been said about how Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino brought their teams to the brink and how each coach knows what to do in the month of March. Both teams earned their rather low NCAA tournament seedings due to regular season struggles. The Cards came into the month as a number 4 seed while the Spartans were number 7.

    Both teams came out with the tough, scrappy defense that the entire country expected them to play. Louisville’s first made shot was a Montrezl Harrell dunk, his 220th career jam, while Michigan State’s first was a Travis Trice three point splash. Was this where the game was going.

    The Cardinal defense, changeable as ever, picked up the Spartans full court on every made shot. It’s the defense of most Pitino teams, but with a lack of depth, the coach hasn’t played as much this season. With everything on the line, he pulled out all the stops.

    The Michigan State star in the first half was Travis Trice who kept filling the basket as did Denzel Valentine. For Louisville Harrell threw it down strong while including a couple of jumpers, and Wayne Blackshear also kept pace with his power forward teammate. Defensively, plenty of deflections got the Cards in good position which is a well-documented stat Coach Pitino wants to dominate. The Cards took a 40-32 halftime lead.

    The way Blackshear played showed that he wasn’t ready to go home as one of only 3 players in Louisville history to get to the Sweet 16 all four of his Cardinal years and 3 Elite Eights. He finished the game with 28 points in the game. When Trezz couldn’t score and Terry Rozier had an off night, Big Game Wayne came up big.

    As the second half opened, you realized it was the game everyone thought it would be. The officials allowed a lot of contact and the teams took advantage of it. Not that it was a dirty game, but there was a physicality that couldn’t be denied. And when you play that style, it plays into Harrell’s hands. It also helped the play of Mangok Mathiang who, in the last few games, has separated himself from the other players that rotate in the center spot. His presence in the middle altered Spartan shots.

    The problem for Louisville was that they opened the half in one of those characteristic scoring droughts that plagued them all season. It got the Spartans back in the game as they kept pounding the ball inside - something they didn’t do in the first half.

    And then the officials decided the game should be called tighter so all of a sudden Louisville started committing fouls that weren’t fouls in the first half. The Cards would have to adjust because Michigan State already had. Their kind of play as well as the difference in foul calls between the first and second half got the Spartans out front with a 10-0 run.

    Blackshear showed his warrior spirit by playing with 4 fouls for a chunk of the second half. It didn’t stop him from driving into the lane. One particular play he glided to the rim and got a foul hard enough to bloody his nose. After a brief stint on the bench to stop the bleeding, he came back into the game and hit a huge three to get the Cards back into it.

    At the end of regulation, the ball was in the hands of Mathiang after he was fouled. He hit the front end to tie the game. He missed the second which gave both teams 5 more minutes to play. With two of the Spartans big men out, could the Cards close out. That was the hard part to understand. Even though Michigan State got all the calls, or seemed to, they had two guys foul out.

    The overtime wasn’t good for Louisville. The Spartans shot out to a 6 point lead within the first 3 minutes. That momentum was too much for the Cards to overcome.

    Photo by: Tim Girton/Louisville.com

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    About Tim Girton

    Tim Girton writes about University of Louisville sports here at Louisville.com and his love for Louisville continues on his photoblog, called This Is Louisville.

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