It has been almost a full day since the “Meltdown in Memphis” (just came up with that one) so I have had time to gather my thoughts about the game. Actually I pretty much knew soon after it ended how I felt. It was very frustrating to watch the end and how that unfolded, yet after the loss was complete, it didn’t make me lose hope in this team. There are a few reasons, but the main one is this: I don’t get bent out of shape about regular season losses. And to be consistent, I don’t celebrate too much about regular season wins either.
We are Louisville. We don’t storm the court because we are one of the top programs in the country. So what that also means is that we are judged by how we perform in March. Yes, the Memphis game was March 1, but I mean in NCAA Tournament play. We stumbled down the stretch heading into the tournament just two seasons ago, and that is putting it lightly. Think about our last 6 regular season games that season: we lost at home to Syracuse by 1. We beat DePaul in overtime by 8, yes it took overtime to beat DePaul. We lost to Cincinnati and then beat Pittsburgh by 3. On Senior Night, we lost to a terrible South Florida team by 7. We finished out the regular season with another loss to Syracuse, this one on the road. That gave us 9 losses for the regular season (we have 5 right now). What did we do after all of that? Went to Madison Square Garden and won 4 games in a row to win the Big East Tournament, and won another 4 in a row to make it to the Final Four.
Even last year I didn’t get all bent out of shape over the 3 losses in a row. When they happen, yes it is frustrating and it upsets you. I am not denying that. But in the grand scheme of things, I kept saying “It is just 3 games in January. If we win this whole thing, who will care about these 3 games?” Luckily that all worked out and we won the title.
What was tough about the Memphis game, and actually the previous Memphis game, was our inability to close it out at the end after holding a lead. Just take a look at this stat here.
On Jan. 9, Louisville led Memphis 64-59 with 3:50 left and lost 73-67.
Today Louisville led Memphis 65-57 with 4:23 left and lost 72-66.
— Howie Lindsey (@howielindsey) March 1, 2014
Now those are not good numbers for the Cards. But last season when we were ranked #1 and lost at home to Syracuse, we were up 62-57 with 7:22 to play. And then we were up 68-66 with 1:03 to play and the ball. And we ended up losing that one 70-68 after the late turnover and dunk by Michael Carter-Williams. And then there was the 5 overtime game against Notre Dame where we seemed to have a shot to win it at the end of each overtime. Not sure if we did or not, but that is what it seemed like. And we didn’t get the job done there. So there were questions last year about that team closing games out, and they turned out just fine.
Does that mean this year’s team will win the National Championship? Of course it doesn’t mean that. I am just saying because Louisville blew a lead on the road against a talented rival, does not mean that they can not win games. Maybe there were decisions that were made down the stretch yesterday that the team will learn from and it will help them in the NCAA Tournament.
“I knew we were in trouble when we went up seven, and our guys acted like junior high kids,” Pitino said, translating the note. “I knew they weren’t focused to put the team away. That was very disappointing for a defending national champion to act like they just won the game being only up seven points on the road.”
So maybe in a game down the road when the Cards have a late lead, you will see focus and not so much celebrating. You just have to hope that yesterday’s meltdown will translate into something good later on. If we can beat SMU and UConn to close out the regular season, and then win the AAC Tournament (hopefully playing Memphis again), then this team will be just fine heading into the NCAA Tournament. After all, we are Louisville. The NCAA Tournament is how we are judged.