Poised for a Run

Chinanu Onuaku
Photo: Mark Konenzy/USA Today Sports

After a disappointing 66-62 road loss to Clemson, the Louisville basketball team seemed to have many more question marks than we thought. Clemson did shoot 28 more free throws than the Cards, which seemed to be the deciding factor in the shocking defeat. That was the first time a Louisville basketball team has lost a game when making 10 more field goals than its opponent (24 to 14) in program history. Damion Lee shot 2-12 and Trey Lewis added in an abysmal 3-19. The hot shooting that we all fell in love with seemed to be a thing of the distant past; however, the defense was there.

Say what you want about Damion Lee and Trey Lewis’ combined play on the offensive end lately, but always remember that this team isn’t going anywhere without them. Yes, compared to the non-conference stats, their conference numbers have been down. But isn’t that expected? All CardNation heard during December was how weak the non-conference schedule was, and we all know the ACC is loaded. So, why are so many people saying the grad-transfer duo is overrated? In my opinion, they’ve gotten better than they were in December. That’s simply because they have fully bought in, and that caused everyone else to do the same. And it’s shown on the defensive end.

After they handed the Cards their first and only conference loss, Clemson went on to beat both Duke and Miami in their next two games. That loss doesn’t seem as bad, right? Louisville enters the gauntlet in February, and that’s what concerned most fans about the loss. If the Cards want to win an ACC title, those are the kind of games they can’t afford to lose.

For the Cards, January struggles are more common than a missed snow prediction in Louisville. But this year, the Cards can’t afford to have a major slip up in January, which made the Pitt game that much more important. The Cards displayed why the fans should relax, and they did it with defense. Holding one of the nation’s top scoring and assisting teams to an impressively low 41 points and 4 assists to match their 19 turnovers. The Cards won by 18, and did so the way all great teams make championship rubs, defense.

The next game brought a high powered Florida State offense to the Yum! Center, in another “must-win” for Louisville. The final score showed a 19 point victory for Louisville, but it wasn’t even that close. The Cards led by 30 points when Pitino cleared the bench, Florida State kept some starters in and eventually closed the game on a 10-0 run making it 84-65 Louisville at the buzzer. Once again, the Cards held a team averaging 80+ points per game to only 65.

And of course, the most recent victory might have been the biggest. A 75-71 road victory over Georgia Tech might have been just what this team needed. After blowing out their last two opponents, traveling to Atlanta was a bigger test than most thought. Last year, the Cards squeaked out a win that ended up being the turning point of the season. This win might have come after the turning point but it was still huge for other reasons. Anas Mahmoud was a stud, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis shot the ball like we all knew they could, Nanu recorded his 6th straight double-double, and the team fought the entire 40 minutes to grab a much needed win. There’s no possible way to exaggerate the win yesterday. It kept the Cards second in the ACC, and brought the team together in a tough road environment for a very solid win. Damion Lee and Trey Lewis are getting back to their form and that’s crucial if this team wants to go deep in March.

Damion Lee Trey Lewis
Photo: WDRB.com

While the numbers might not be there for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis offensively, they have this team clicking on all cylinders. Their shooting will fully return, but the important thing is their defense is here to stay. Defensively, this team has it figured out. Defense is always a staple of Rick Pitino teams, that’s why his teams are so good in March. It’s a tough system to figure out, but this team appears to have solved the puzzle, and they did it earlier than normal. Nanu has 6 straight double-doubles, Quentin Snider is playing the best basketball of his career, Donovan Mitchell is breaking out, and all this is being done without Mangok Mathiang. That’s a scary thought for teams across the nation.

This team is special, and it’s thanks to the leadership and commitment shown by Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. This team is playing their best ball, while those two are in a rut offensively and that could not be better news. As soon as those shots start falling (and they will), this team will be a tough out for anyone in March. I predicted the Cards to win the ACC this year; they’re in a pretty good position to make it happen. Second in the league standings behind only North Carolina, and the Tarheels come to town on the 30th. This team is ready, and they’re still getting better. Rick has us ready to watch another postseason run, which could possibly one of the most memorable runs in history. Buckle up, Cards fans. It’s time.

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