A few folks got on me for pointing out the negatives after a win over Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know if the same folks will get after me for pointing out the positives after today’s three-point loss at Georgetown.
But there were some good developments in this game, and I’ll get to them first.
1). One of the criticisms I had after the Notre Dame win was bad decision-making down the stretch. Today, I thought the Cards made a lot of good decisions. The execution wasn’t always perfect, but the offensive mindset was good. They got great shots, just didn’t make a bunch of them. And you’re not going to go into Georgetown and win on an off-shooting night. You’re just not. Georgetown creates those kinds of days for opponents, and the Hoyas were outstanding defensively today. But U of L missed a slew of open perimeter jumpers that they just have to make. It wasn’t a matter of not going inside enough. They just missed too many of them. And that happens. There was a bad defensive gaffe late in leaving Summers open for what turned out to be the game-winning three. Remember Pitino saying after the Notre Dame game that in the final minute, everybody becomes a three-point shooter. Summers had shot worse than 30 percent from three-point range this season.
2). There’s not much question in my mind that this team needed a loss before the NCAA Tournament. While it had won nine straight, I questioned whether it had improved in the past couple of games. This team needed this loss. I think it needed something to put a bad taste in its mouth, to bring about a nastier attitude. Whether it’s better to have come in such a painful game, with a title on the line, or in the Big East Tournament, where some additional days of rest come with it, is debatable. I will say this. I think U of L is more likely to win the Big East tourney having lost today than it was had it won. We’ll see. It’s been a while since this team has had to bounce back from that kind of disappointment.
3). I thought Terrence Williams was really good today, though he wound up making the defensive miscue that gave up the game-winning shot. More than his numbers, I thought he embraced the big-game atmosphere from the start. And I thought Earl Clark continued his emergence, as well. He was the game’s best rebounder, and did some nice things on both ends, though his four turnovers were costly. Derrick Caracter’s contribution was big, and bodes well for the postseason.
There are your positives. Negatives?
4). Free-throws, and more free-throws. One of the reasons this team needed a loss heading into NCAA play is that apparently it doesn’t take seriously the importance of free throws. There’s no other way to view it, because of this stat — In its first 13 Big East games, U of L was at least decent from the stripe, shooting 67.8 percent. Over its final five Big East games, the Cards were an inexcusable 58.4 percent from the line (59 of 101). No team that shoots those numbers is going to go far. You can win some games without making free throws, but you can’t win championships. This is a matter of individual time, away from practice, on your own. Williams is the guy who could do the most damage for U of L at the line. He’s got the ability to drive and draw contact, but he’s shooting just 56 percent from the line, and is just 7 of 18 the past five games. Earl Clark gets to the line more than any U of L player, but shoots 66 percent — though he appeared to be getting more solid before going 5 of 9 today. David Padgett has seen a rare senior-year slip to 63.4 percent after being an 80 percent career shooter.
5). You’d like to say defense, after Georgetown shot 50 percent from the field (65 percent in the second half) and 7 of 13 from three-point range, but the fact is that the Hoyas were just outstanding offensively, apart from their turnovers. They made some contested shots. They found the open man. They did a lot of things right, things that most teams have not been able to do against U of L’s defense. I’m sure the Cards will come up with plenty of defensive mistakes, particularly during that second-half Georgetown run, but on the whole, the defense was good.
In the end, it’s a bitter loss for U of L, but one that came in a game it had a chance to win on the road against an opponent with Final Four experience that hasn’t lost at home in two years.
The thing the Cards have to do now is use the pain. One championship has slipped away, but there are others on the table. None of them will be claimed, however, by shooting worse than 60 percent from the free-throw line.