Louisville is a team built in the image of its’ coach Rick Pitino. It is built on defense, and lucky for the Cardinal, the Big East Championship was a defensive blood-bath. With Cinci shooting 39 percent from the field and Louisville only going 35 percent, it was a game of loose balls, rebounding, and turnovers. Not the prettiest thing to watch for some, but an epic war for true basketball fans.
This was a matchup of two programs that in the words of Rick Pitino “know each other too well … so defense has to win it.”
Chris Smith lead the way for Louisville with 15 points from the perimeter and Gorgui Dieng handled the grunt work underneath with 10 boards. But the real leader of this Cardinal squad was tournament MVP Peyton Siva. Peyton Siva is the backbone of a team built on hustle and heart. Siva is the junior guard from Oregon that both distributes the ball unselfishly on offense and applies backcourt defensive pressure that makes Louisville tick.
The game appeared to be going all Louisville’s way--having a 44-28 lead with 8:27 left in the game--but that’s when the Bearcats went on a 16-4 run, making it 48-44 with 2:38 to go. In five minutes everything had changed. Now it looked like Cinci was in the driver’s seat. They had the momentum. They had the ball and they had the hot hand in Cashmere Wright who was taking over the game with a game high 16 points.
This period is when Pitino gathered his troops and showed why Louisville is a special team. With 2:38 left, the Cardinal applied their brand of in-your-face defense that grounded the Cincinnati offense to a halt. Cinci didn’t score a single point in the last 2:38 as Sive dropped in a couple free throws and iced the game.
This marks Louisville’s second Big East Championship in three years and gives them the coveted automatic bid to the Big Dance, but best of all it means the Cardinal is getting hot in March.
We all remember how surprising UConn’s late season heroics were last year after winning the Big East Tournament. Maybe Pitino’s plotting a similar finale.
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