Thoughts on the U of L loss

Back in Louisville, at the C-J building filling out expense forms, and I’ll turn around and leave before daylight for Raleigh, N.C. and the U of L women’s bid to make the Final Four on Monday night.

But if I don’t get these quick thoughts down, I probably won’t ever do it.

It’s always difficult to write stories like this one. It has been, by any measure, one of the better basketball seasons in U of L history. But it ended on as flat a note as anyone could have imagined. As such, my story depicted some pretty hard reality. Or as hard a reality as basketball can bring you.

It was, I think, Rick Pitino’s worst NCAA loss as a coach. He had a No. 1 seed at Kentucky lose to North Carolina in the regional by 13 points, in a game in which the Wildcats completely abandoned the team concept and went completely one-on-one and jacked up a ridiculous number of three-pointers. Pitino said just this week that it was the most disappointing NCAA loss he’s had.

But even that loss was to a North Carolina team that had players like Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, who would go on to become regular NBA All-Stars. This loss? To Goran Suton. With a team ranked No. 1, and with the No. 1 overall seed. An experienced team that had come one step away a year ago. A team with two-thirds of the 36,000-plus crowd in Indianapolis, less than 150 miles from Louisville, primed and loud.

It was, as I say in the first paragraph of my Monday column, as hard a fall as perhaps any U of L team has ever had.

Reading back over the story in the office, I wish two things. First, that I’d included one more sentence to talk about the outstanding job Pitino did this season as coach. He truly was the Big East Conference coach of the year, if you reckon conference accomplishment as the true measure, and wasn’t honored as such.

And the second thing is that I wish I’d remembered one detail. My job in this column was to describe the magnitude of the loss, but also to get, briefly, into what happened. One of the most telling moments came in the game’s first television timeout. Pitino had called a timeout just moments before. The game had started slowly. The score was only 4-2 with 4:31 having gone by.

And midway through that timeout, Pitino slammed his clipboard to the ground. I immediately got up and went to Rick Bozich, who was sitting a row in front of me, and asked him, “Did you see that?”

Something wasn’t right, with Pitino that upset that early in what was still a brand new game. I meant to get that nugget into my column, and didn’t. Sometimes you get so focused on what happens late in a game and afterward and the early stuff falls by the wayside.

Something wasn’t right with this team all night. After the game, we heard talk about some sharp exchanges between Terrence Williams and Pitino, which perhaps resulted in Williams spending the final five minutes of the first half on the bench. The longest stretch of down time for the All-American since very early in the season. Pitino downplayed it after the game. Players acknowledged it to a point, but would not speak about it. Rick Bozich’s column tomorrow gets into it as much as he could, while examining Williams’ overall game.

Tom Izzo should get a great deal of credit for this win. He attacked U of L’s zone like it hadn’t been all season. The key? It was easy to see. Getting Suton the ball in the high post. But that wouldn’t have worked if not for one other thing. Seeing that U of L’s 2-3 zone functions like a man-to-man defense on top, he made sure that his guards were way up high on the court when they entered the ball to Supon. As a result, there was open space for Suton, and no way for U of L’s guards to retreat back and harrass him with the ball.

Izzo also had two press attacks. His first-half press break was conservative, using forwards and guards to get the ball over and into the half-court offense. But in the second half, at least three times Michigan State got the ball out of the net and rifled down the court for two easy layups and a transition three. They lulled U of L’s press to sleep with their first half conservatism, then burned it for points in the second. Michigan State’s guards didn’t commit a single turnover against the press, and the Spartans had only one press turnover as a team.

That, again, points to something being wrong. Maybe Michigan State deserves most of the credit for that. Probably, it does. (A little note being added to the Rick Pitino-Tom Crean lore. Crean visited the Michigan State team hotel Saturday night. Whether he and Izzo talked strategy, you can decide. But interestingly, Michigan State players said Izzo came to the morning shootaround with a different game plan for the press than he’d originally planned. Izzo spent a lot of the night up watching tapes, and said he found a couple that gave him his idea for the attack he eventually used against the press).

In all, it wasn’t a pretty afternoon for the Cardinals. And that usually means that the day-after analysis isn’t pretty, either.

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14 thoughts on “Thoughts on the U of L loss

  1. As hard as this loss was to accept. The Cards had a great year. UCONN was going to be very difficult to beat anyway. Hats off to this year’s class, they really came around after some lapses early in the year. That Big East run was a high for the program and an elite eight is nothing to be ashamed of. I hope the fans realize how blessed we are to have this caliber of basketball to watch on a regular basis the past few years and don’t start to take it for granted. For all the hard work the coaches and players put in – Thanks! I can’t wait until next year! GO CARDS!

  2. Think you hit the key point. Izzo outcoached Pitino. Hit the sweet spot on the zone with Suton, and Pitino never adjusted or tried man to man. Plus the zone let them run the shot clock down whenever they wanted.MSU handled the press like it wasn’t even there.And Walton locked up TWill, not letting him drive to the hoop, forcing him into tough shots. UL should have tried to get him the ball on the block, posting a guard that was 4″ shorter than him.Great coaching by Izzo. No adjustments by Pitino.

  3. First of all, congratulations on having a solid season. There is no shame in losing to MSU, a team that has flown under the radar screen all year–mainly due to injury and illness. This isn’t the first time Izzo has had to prepare for a pressing team. In the 2000 NCAA title game, Izzo prepared a masterful plan to attack Billy Donovan’s pressing Florida team, and made the Gators look foolish en route to the victory. As you know, Donovan is a Pitino disciple.Tom Izzo is probably the hardest working and most prepared coach in the country, particularly in the tournament. Nobody studies film or does his homework like this guy.You guys down in Louisville got a chance to see a team in MSU that is finally hitting their stride. Goran SUTON has been huge in this tourney, and Travis Walton is probably the best defensive player in the nation.Best of luck to your Cardinals next year!

  4. Nice post Sparty. Congrats to your guys. We know Suton’s name now though. lol Crawford spelled it right early in his post then just misspelled it later.About Crean though, I’d like to put some blame on that little fudge nugget but really, what does he know about beating Louisville? Not much.

  5. Oops. Sorry about misspelling Suton there at the end. Was a little bleary eyed at that hour. Has been corrected. Thanks for posting!

  6. I have been following UL basketball for a long, LONG time and I’ve got to tell you this is the most disappointing end to a season that I can remember. Congrats to the Spartans. They executed a masterful game plan on both ends of the floor. My problem is why they were allowed to do that. After Louisville shredded zone after zone, wouldn’t one sort of expect to see man-to-man? Suton was in precisely the right spot to get his shot over and over. Couldn’t we adjust to that? We did got some back door cuts. We did get Earl cutting across the lane and scoring. But I never got the sense that Louisville had a solid plan to beat Michigan and that leaves me scratching my grey head. It was a great season and nobody died, but this is a tough one to take considering all the forces ,talent and seeding that went our way.

  7. While Suton had a great first half, I don’t think he was the difference in the game. I thought Pitino made a great adjustment to shut him down in the second half by sagging a guard on him when he popped out to the high post. Suton had 17 points at half, yet MSU only led by 3 points. Michigan State blew out Louisville in the second half when Suton was limited to two free throws.Where Louisville lost the game in the second half, in my opinion, was the other MSU players starting their hitting jumpers. MSU also killed UL on the offensive boards in the second half. After Louisville went ahead 34-32, MSU made their decisive run. They got 8 offensive rebounds and scored six times off of those second chances. On the other end of the floor UL got two offensive rebounds and scored once off of those chances during the same timeframe. Louisville looked very frustrated on offense, primarily due to the fact that MSU was denying every pass and the only time UL was able to generate any offense was when they went backdoor.

  8. I truly can say Louisville has a excellent & honest fan base. They will call it right or wrong and be fair about it. Michigan played to win with the help of their coach and that's what coaches do. Pitino just didn't do a better job. Louisville will learn from this & will be back next season.

  9. Great season guys. Pitino did a MASTERFUL job this season. 1 game does not a season make. Pitino has brought LIFE back to this program and we are a MAJOR force once again. It just feels great to be in the discussion again with the likes of NC, Duke, UConn, etc. Give Michigan State credit. They came to play. Our guys, as much as we love them, are still human and bad games happen. We had won 13 in a row and what a WILD RIDE it was! After the early losses and the tough UK game, I would have never DREAMED the season could result in a Big East Championship and tourney championship.. AND.. a #1 seed… You’re kidding right? No way! Well, it happened and it was the most fun I’ve had from a Cardinal Season in a very VERY long time. Yes the fall is hard, but we have 8 months to get over it and on to see how these guys do next year. Peyton Siva, Jerry, Knowles, Samardo, Jennings.. it will be fun. PLUS, we get to see Earl and TWill on NBA draft night. Sure, I wanted a Final 4, but it wasn’t meant to be. What we did get was 100% effort this season and with Rick Pitino leading the way, you can bank on that effort again. A masterful leader, Pitino will have us back in the Final 4, you can count on it. Congrats guys!

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