There are some teams that just have another team's number. Louisville has Syracuse's number. They have beaten the Orange six straight times with perhaps none of those being as important as yesterday's win. Louisville was playing their last home game in Freedom Hall before transitioning to a brand-new arena but aside from the sentimental value of this win it all-but assured them a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Louisville beat Syracuse for the second time this season, 78-68.
Louisville plays a lot of zone and they know how to beat it. They were hitting a big man at the top of the post who was kicking it out to the perimeter for good three-point looks. In the first half they weren't falling but Pitino never discourages good looks and the Cardinals would continue to put up shots and eventually they began to fall.
The other way to beat the zone is to beat it before it has a chance to set up. Louisville outrebounded Syracuse 40-33 and looked to push the pace to get easy buckets. During an 8-0 run that put the Cardinals up 75-61 (and essentially put the game away), they had two dunks in transition and would add one more about a minute later.
In the first half, Louisville looked to pressure Syracuse and the strategy backfired. They went to a fullcourt press that the Orange easily broke and it resulted in layups for Arinze Onuaku. This was a big reason the Orange were up 35-30 at the break. In the second half they wised up and just looked to limit Syracuse in transition. That's what worked against the Orange in their first matchup earlier in the season and it proved successful again.
The turning point in the game though, looked to be good news for Syracuse but turned into a blessing in disguise for the Cardinals. Jerry Smith, a starting guard for Louisville, energized the crowd in the first half but injured his hand and was out the entire second half. In his place came Kyle Kuric. Kuric is a sophomore who came in averaging about 3 points per game. Kuric had the game of his life and instantly transformed himself into a Louisville legend. Kuric's previous career-high was 13 points. Against the Orange he had 22. Not only did he have 22 but he did it on 9 of 11 shooting including 4 of 6 from downtown. This is why people love college basketball. It's this type of story everyone gravitates towards. The bench player who often gets little to no playing time is thrust into the spotlight and he almost single-handedly takes down the number one team in the nation.
He did get some help from Samardo Samuels. Just like the last time these two played he was held scoreless in the first half, but also just like last game he was a huge factor in the second half. Last time they played, Samuels didn't score until there was under 8 minutes remaining but then finished with 8 points. Yesterday he had 12 points in the second half and was the inside presence the Cardinals sorely needed.
Syracuse struggled mightily on offense in the second half. They hit just 12 of 33 shots and were also outrebounded 27-14. They missed a lot of shots around the rim and Louisville denied them second chance points.
The key culprit to Syracuse's poor shooting night was Andy Rautins.
Rautins hit 1 of 9 shots and also turned the ball over 5 times. At
least one of those was a typical bone-headed Rautins turnover all Cuse
fans have grown accustomed to. But this time he couldn't make up for
those turnovers with a few dagger three-pointers. After the game
Rautins said, "I had a terrible game. I blamed this loss solely on me."
Can everyone finally stop talking about him having a chance to win the
Big East Player of the Year award? He's a great player and deserving of
praise but there's no way he's the best player in the Big East.
Syracuse won't play again until Thursday when they will face the winner of Georgetown vs. South Florida/DePaul. They will use the extra days to try and get healthy. Wes Johnson is still nursing a hand injury that he received cortisone shots for prior to the Louisville game. Kris Joseph didn't practice all week due to a left knee injury and he was only able to play 17 minutes and contributed just 2 points and 2 rebounds. Nearly five days off should help both players.When the polls come out on Monday, Syracuse will no longer be the No. 1 team in the nation. Hopefully though, by April 5 they will ascend back to that top spot while they cut down the nets in Indianapolis.