After dropping to number 5 as a result of a weekend loss to Syracuse at home in the KFC Yum! Center, the University of Louisville Cardinals (16-3, 4-2) went to Philadelphia to take on the Villanova Wildcats (12-7, 3-3) in a Big East Conference matchup. The Cards didn't meet the challenge of coming back after a tough loss and had the long plane ride home to think about another loss, this time to an unranked Nova team, 73-64.
It was important that Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Wayne Blackshear have better games than they played against Syracuse. That could have made the battle against Nova a confidence builder for each of them.
The start ended up being slow for both teams, especially the Cards opening at a 1 for 5 clip from the field. The Wildcat defensive plan was sound by going man-to-man and overplaying the Louisville pick and roll. By cheating to the side the defender thinks the ball handler is going, they took the screen away.
Through the first half, the Cards struggled on the boards, too. Plenty of missed shots by both teams meant an adventure in rebounding and Louisville should have had an advantage with the superior athletes. The other first half issue came because only Russ Smith looked to score. Normally that isn't that much of an issue, but Smith couldn't knock the shots down. He ended the came with a shockingly low 8 points.
The Cards went down by as many as 10 points to a fired up Villanova squad that came to slay the giant. The Cards used a 12-0 run to climb back in it. Some of that came on scrappy play by Siva as the Nova squad thought it was appropriate to take it to him like he was a football player. He spent a lot of the game on the floor.
Louisville opened the second half just as cold as the first and Villanova used a spurt to extend their 30-28 halftime lead.
As hoped, Blackshear came up big from the three point line, putting in 5 of 8 attempts. Siva took back the floor general position and dished 11 assists to go with his 15 points. Dieng scored a double-double as well (10 points and 10 rebounds).
Smith was Russdiculous in the negative sense of the moniker. Bad shots, bad shot selection and bad turnovers bought him a ticket to the bench for an extended time.
Down the stretch, bad free row shooting became the new albatross, particularly for Chane Behanan. He went three for nine from the free throw line. As a team, the Cardinals shot only 50% from the line to go along with only 39.7% from the field so leaving those points at the line let the Wildcats in it pull away.
Mix in an ineffectual Montrezl Harrell, an invisible Luke Hancock and only 9 points scored off your normally reliable bench and you end up with a two game losing streak, both in conference play.
The Cards travel to Georgetown on Saturday at noon to see if they can put it back together like the number five team in the country should.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton