The Louisville Cardinals are no strangers to being in a high quality basketball conference. That has never been an issue. But even with that, there is something pretty special about being apart of the ACC now. And the Cards (13-1, 1-0) began this chapter with a victory on the road against Wake Forest (8-7, 0-2) 85-76 on Sunday night.
The main thing that jumps out from this game is the play from Chris Jones. Easily the most criticized player on the team this year (for reasons on AND off the court), Jones played his best game since arriving at UofL last season. He had 8 assists in the first half and was clearly looking to get the ball to his teammates and not look for his shot first. That gameplan worked out great as Montrezl Harrell was the beneficiary of a lot of Jones’ passes and scored 20 points in the first half.
In the second half, with Terry Rozier in foul trouble, Chris Jones went in full Russ Smith mode. Russ had to try to be a point guard too, but when it was crunch time and the Cards needed a bucket, or 5, Russ would take it upon himself to score. That is exactly what Jones did. Wake Forest had no answer for stopping him. He got into the lane at will and scored there, or he pulled up and drilled jumpers whether a defender was on him or not. His defense was solid as usual, but this was easily the best game that Jones has played as a Louisville Cardinal. And for this team, it couldn’t come at a better time. Jones finished with 22 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 0 turnovers, and did not attempt a 3 point shot.
When Louisville needs someone to step up and hit a big shot this season, I think they now have two candidates. Jones has proven he wants to take the big shot, but you can add Terry Rozier to that list as well. Throughout the second half, Wake Forest would cut the lead to 1 or even take the lead, and it was usually Rozier that would deliver a jump shot to silence the crowd. He was in foul trouble, but when he was in, he made almost nothing but big shots. He finished with 18 points on 8-14 shooting before fouling out.
Montrezl Harrell set the tone early and often, scoring 20 points in the first half on his way to 25 for the game. Wake Forest made a concerted effort in the second half to limit his touches, so he mainly set screens for Jones and Rozier. One thing about Montrezl though: if he isn’t scoring, that doesn’t mean he stops playing. Any rebound that was anywhere close to him, he came down with, and with authority. He finished the game with 13 rebounds to go along with his 25 points.
Louisville may have also found out a little of what Shaqquan Aaron can do when put in a game situation and not just practice. In a big time road game, the freshman scored 11 points and grabbed 5 rebounds off the bench. He seems to get excited and rush his shot a little bit, but that should calm down with more game experience. If he can keep improving, the Cards have basically picked up a quality player halfway through the season.
If this was any indication of what life will be like in the ACC, then we will be pretty spoiled once again. In the Big East a few years ago, nearly every game was a battle and it didn’t matter how much you won by, you just wanted to get the win. That is probably how this season will be. I will treat it like that, anyway. I am not sure what the spread was for this game, but I know that Wake Forest isn’t one of the top teams in the conference. Still, I was never angry or upset that the game got close. You have to expect those things when you are a top 5 or top 10 team in the country and you go on the road. The opposing team usually elevates their game and the atmosphere is a good one. So because of all of that, I will take a 1-0 start in the ACC no matter what it looked like. I am pretty sure that Louisville now has the best winning percentage in ACC history, right?
Next up for the Cards will be Clemson on Wednesday at home.
Go Cards! Go Krogering!