Final Edition: Expanded U of L-Ole Miss column

Some of you will get a version of this in your paper tomorrow, though shorter, though many more will get the version I filed at the buzzer, and some will have the column I filed before the game. This is my last word from US Bank Arena before heading home.

Clark a hero, but needs some super friends

CINCINNATI

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said that his team needed junior Earl Clark “to be Superman” against Mississippi last night.

They also needed him to be Batman (shot-blocking) and Robin (passing), Spiderman (defense) and maybe The Hulk (could he rebound?)

Mississippi has been known affectionately as “Ole Miss” for most of its history. Last night, Clark’s teammates looked as if they were bucking for a nickname of their own.

All Miss.

In a game that featured 94 missed shots, Clark was super sharp. He finished with career highs of 25 points and 16 rebounds while adding 5 blocked shots and four assists to lead the Cards to a 77-68 win in Cincinnati’s US Bank Arena.

“I don’t know why he took a shower,” U of L senior Terrence Williams said in the locker room afterward. “Because it’s like he does things without sweating.”

If Rebels coach Andy Kennedy thought that cab driver he allegedly assaulted the night before the game was a pain, Clark took him on a ride he won’t forget for a while.

And during the first eight minutes, Clark’s meter was running at peak rates. He had 17 points at the 12-minute mark of the first half, and scored them in just about every way they could be scored. He hit threes. He scored off offensive rebounds. He drove through the lane for a layup. He scored in the post.

Then U of L treated him like The Invisible Man. In the last dozen minutes of the half, Clark scored just one point. And Ole Miss came back.

After trailing 32-14, the Rebels took just a four-point deficit to the locker room. They did it because U of L’s guards seemed to regard the double-digit lead as their own personal garbage time.

Though Pitino said afterward it wasn’t as simple as that.

“We lost confidence in going inside to Samardo (Samuels),” Pitino said. “And we reverted to our quick shooting and taking bad shots. And we can’t do that. We can’t lose confidence in going inside.”

That they did. Three times the Cards pulled up for shots longer than 12 feet when they had numbers on the break. Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith made careless turnovers. Preston Knowles took a couple of uncharacteristic outside shots. And like that, a game that they had been dominating was now a fight pretty much to the finish.

Samuels had a night to forget, making just 2 of 13 shots. But Pitino hopes he remembers it. Ole Miss bodied up to him on every shot. They played physically with him. Though, if he thinks that was physical, he’s going to love Connecticut and Pittsburgh.

Pitino said it wasn’t just Samuels’ poor shooting from point-blank range that caused teammates to lose confidence.

“We lost confidence in his ability to pass the ball,” Pitino said. “And that’s where he’s got to be better. . . . This was a great learning experience for Samardo. He’s been having his way too much.”

But there are others who should not need learning experiences like this. Say what you want about this team — and it played eight dominant minutes last night — it still doesn’t play like a team that most of the time has four guys on the court who played to the brink of a Big East Conference champion last season.

The potential they show is unmistakable. But great teams don’t go from playing their best eight minutes of the season to their worst 12 on a dime.

If there was an upside, it was that the Cards didn’t panic last night the way they did when some of the same things happened against Western Kentucky. Samuels particularly responded better, kept plugging away and grabbed 13 rebounds. If Samuels shoots his usual percentage, last night’s win would’ve been a 20-point breather.

Still, the guard play, especially game management and just the facilitation of the offense, has a long way to go.

Pitino knows it. He said after the game that, “In order for us to be a great basketball team Edgar Sosa has to be a great point guard. That’s our next step to get to that level.”

If Pitino can do that, he might be the Superman.

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