Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Louisville 87, Notre Dame 73 (OT)

It's possible that I've been too hard on Louisville. I'm not sure why that would be. I have nothing against them. I don't hate Rick Pitino. The mascot annoys me a little, the way he sits there in that corner the whole time looking as if he's waiting for somebody to bring him a pina colada and massage his huge yellow feet, but that's a minor thing.

The only thing about Louisville that bugs me is that, when I've seen them this year, they don't seem to be as good as they're supposed to be. And their failings are failings of focus and hustle.

But I don't know. Maybe their weaknesses aren't fatal. They lost three non-conference games they shouldn't have lost, nearly gave away a game to Kentucky and got lucky to beat Villanova. But here they sit, now 3-0 in conference, and there's no denying this win last night was a good one.

It came against a game Notre Dame team that, sure, plays no defense but is tough to outscore and has Luke Harangody, who is (ready?) the best player in the country.

Yes. No offense to Tyler Hansbrough or Blake Griffin, but I truly believe Harangody is the best college basketball player in the country. The more I see him, the more I recall Christian Laettner, except I think Harangody is physically tougher. He beats up up inside in the first half so that he can roam more freely in the second half and score from all over. He gets rebounds. He gets steals. You look for the ball, you're going to find him. And my god can he score. Playing defense on him is like Rocky trying to catch the chicken in Rocky II. You do everything right, force him into a bad shot, and he still scores. He shoots high, six-foot jumpers off the glass over the hands of taller players, and they go in. The ESPN broadcast crew last night said they'd spoken to a scout who ranked Harangody as a better pro prospect than Hansbrough, and it didn't sound ridiculous.

Anyway, Harangody and the Irish ran out of gas, and the reason was the way Louisville maintained its pressure throughout the game. Sure, there were stretches when they looked like the maddening Louisville team of which I've written before -- as if they were annoyed and frustrated at the idea that they had to work hard and try to do something crazy like maybe not let three-point shooter Kyle McAlarney drive the lane for an easy layup. But more than in any game I've seen them play this year, they maintained their defensive intensity. This gave them a tremendous late advantage over Notre Dame, which has none, and which also doesn't have the athletes Louisville has.

Terrence Williams had the big game and the flashy numbers, but watching the game it felt as if Earl Clark was the impact guy. Samardo Samuels will be a force in the paint as he continues to develop. And they have decent depth, with Knowles, McGee and Jennings contributing off the bench. With Louisville, it's not and never has been a question of talent. They have plenty. It's a question of whether they can keep their intensity and focus throughout the game and hold off the kind of tough opponents they're going to face all year in this conference. Last night, they answered that question.

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