Ron Cook: Louisville simply a superior team with superior talent
February 25, 2016 12:00 AM
Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku dunks against Pitt in the first half Wednesday at Petersen Events Center.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There was no shame in this Pitt loss.
Yes, Pitt dropped another game at Petersen Events Center where it used to be virtually unbeatable. And yes, it lost another game to a ranked opponent. That makes six times in six games this season.
But there never is shame in losing to a better team with better players.
I saw NBA-bound players on Louisville Wednesday night. You won’t see a better, more athletic dunk all season than the one by freshman Deng Adel, who swooped from the baseline across the lane to finish in style. It was better even than another impressive slam down the lane by 6-foot-10 teammate Chinanu Onuaku moments later. The two dunks were the most entertaining parts of a 27-12 Louisville run that ended the game and led to a 67-60 win.
Pitt doesn’t have that type of players.
That’s what makes winning big games against really good teams such a challenge.
Louisville has won eight games in a row against Pitt for a reason, you know?
Even when Pitt held a 48-40 lead with 9 minutes left and Petersen Events Center was rocking like the old days when the Panthers were a national power, it didn’t feel like Pitt was going to win. The game turned when senior James Robinson, making his school-record 129th career start, missed an open shot and Louisville’s Damion Lee hit a 3-point shot at the other end to cut Pitt’s lead to 48-43. That 3 was one of five that Louisville made down the stretch. It ended up shooting 50.9 percent for the game, including 43.8 percent on 3s. Pitt shot only 42 percent and 22.2 percent.
“We let it get away from us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
In no particular order, Dixon blamed Pitt’s poor shooting on 3s, its 15 turnovers and its man-to-man defense at the end of the game.
Pitt battled hard. It outrebounded Louisville, 34-28. It also caught a big break when four of Louisville’s five starters were in foul trouble in the first half, including second-leading scorer Trey Lewis and third-leading scorer and top rebounder Onuaku. Pitt ended up shooting 21 free throws for the game and Louisville just 10. Pitt didn’t help itself by making only 14 of the foul shots.
“We’ve been a good 3-point shooting team and we didn’t shot 3s well,” Dixon said. “We’ve been a good free-throw shooting team and we didn’t shoot free throws well. When you get to the free-throw line and don’t get points, that can be devastating.”
It was a tough night for two of Pitt’s big three — Jamal Artis and Michael Young. Artis made only 3-of-13 shots and had five turnovers. Young missed all four of his free throws and had three turnovers.
Sophomore Ryan Luther was Pitt’s best player. He was largely responsible for building that 48-40 lead by scoring seven consecutive points by tipping in a shot, hitting a 3 and making two free throws. He shot 6 for 8, scored 17 points and had five rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
In the end, Louisville’s better talent prevailed.
Louisville won’t be going to the ACC or NCAA tournaments because of its self-imposed ban for NCAA violations that involved a former assistant coach allegedly paying escorts to dance for and provide sex for players and recruits between 2010-14. Coach Rick Pitino has insisted he knew nothing about what was going on.
Is it just me or does it seem like a real stretch to believe a powerful, controlling coach who knows everything about everything in his program could miss something like that?
The postseason is out, but, at 11-4 and tied for second place in the powerful ACC, Louisville still can win the conference. Among its league wins was a 71-65 victory Feb. 1 against then-No. 1 North Carolina.
It’s reasonable to think Louisville could have gone a long way in the NCAAs.
“I told [the players] that it’s a privilege and an honor to be around [them] every day,” Pitino said. “You would think we were favorites to win the national championship with the way we’re practicing. There’s no question about it. No bitterness. Nothing.”
Pitt gets one more chance against a ranked opponent before the ACC tournament. It plays No. 15 Duke Sunday at Petersen Events Center in what will be Robinson’s final regular-season home game. A win would go a long way to wrapping up Pitt’s NCAA tournament bid.
I don’t know if Pitt is good enough to win, but I do know this: Duke will be a much better matchup for it than Louisville.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter@RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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