Saturday Recap: Balanced Louisville Too Much for Memphis

December 18th, 2011

The first meeting between Memphis and Louisville since the 2005 Conference USA title game certainly did not disappoint from a drama standpoint, with both teams landing major blows throughout the contest. But despite a combined 74 first-half points the play was ragged for much of the contest, with the Cardinals taking a 42-32 lead into the break thanks to the Tigers shooting 29% from the field and turning the ball over ten times. But led by Will Barton (28 points, 16 rebounds) Josh Pastner's team refused to fold, fighting back to take a 57-55 lead with 11 minutes remaining.

But Memphis' many defensive breakdowns proved costly in the long run, as Louisville scored 53 second-half points on their way to the 95-87 win. Russ Smith made the most of his 25 minutes of action with 24 points and seven steals, and all seven Louisville players to see double-digit minutes reached double figures in the scoring column. Louisville didn't shoot well from the field (40%) or from three (30.4%) but they did attempt 40 free throws, making 32 of those. The Cardinals were also good at setting each other up, assisting on 60.7% of their made baskets while Memphis assisted on just 42.3% of theirs. 

"I thought most of the time we were playing great defense," said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. "They were trying to penetrate and we were forced to help, and then the guy who had to help then circled for a 3. They had a good strategy and they are a very tough team to play against."

Another player whose contributions cannot be ignored is center Gorgui Dieng, who was outstanding with 14 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots in 40 minutes of action. Dieng's game has grown a great deal since his arrival on campus, and at this rate he may end up being one of the top centers in the Big East if he isn't in that class already. To get this kind of play from guys such as Dieng and Smith right now is a huge boost for Louisville, which welcomed Kevin Ware (only six minutes due in large part to Memphis going to a zone defense) and will hopefully regain the services of the injured Wayne Blackshear at some point in Big East play. 

"Memphis surprised me by going zone because they haven't shown it. He's going to be fine," said Pitino of Ware. "He is a terrific athlete, good off the bounce, and much more a point guard than I anticipated. We are very excited to have him. Next game, he will be able to play a little bit more." 

Memphis drops to 5-4 on the season but with the schedule they've played to date the Tigers are likely the most-tested team in the country. Barton in recent games has looked like a player who has figured things out and with his talent the sky's the limit, and Joe Jackson added 22 points. But Memphis has to tighten things up on the defensive end of the floor, as there were far too many breakdowns that led to either baskets or fouls. And turning the ball over on 20% of their possessions didn't help matters either. Louisville is still figuring things out as well, and as they welcome back key contributors and fine-tune things the Cardinals will begin to look even more like a national title contender than they do now.  

Other Notable Happenings 

1.Baylor survives two scares in beating BYU in Provo.
There was no doubt among those who follow college basketball that Scott Drew's team would have a hard time at the Marriott Center, one of the toughest environments in America for visiting teams. #6 Baylor was playing their first true road game of the season, and despite their talent there was an adjustment to be made. But thanks in large part to sophomore forward Perry Jones III and guard Pierre Jackson the Bears hung on for the 86-83 win. Jones put together an impressive stat line, finishing with 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals while also scaring both himself and the team with a knee injury in the second half. Luckily for both "PJ3" and the Bears it was simply a matter of banging knees with a BYU player and he was able to return.

Where did Jackson come into play? The JUCO transfer scored 13 points and dished out seven assists (five turnovers), and his block of Brandon Davies' (18 points, 13 rebounds) attempt to tie the game preserved the victory. Brady Heslip's marksmanship from beyond the arc was another key factor for Baylor, allowing them to withstand a very good effort from the Cougars. Matt Carlino scored 18 points off the bench in his first action in a BYU uniform, and it's difficult to see the UCLA transfer not starting when the Cougars take the court again. Baylor's win on the road is one more step in the right direction for a team that's looking more and more like a national title contender by the game. 

2. Ohio State wins despite losing Jared Sullinger to a foot injury. 
Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger moved back into the starting lineup for Saturday's game at South Carolina after coming off the bench in their win over USC Upstate earlier in the week. But the All-American wasn't on the floor for long in the Buckeyes' 74-66 win over the Gamecocks as his left foot was stepped on after just six minutes of action. X-rays came up negative for Sullinger, with the diagnosis being a bone bruise. To say the least Ohio State dodged a bullet with his injury, but they also had some key figures step up just a week after their loss at Kansas without the big man.

Deshaun Thomas was outstanding, scoring 30 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Thomas has made his last 17 two-point field goal attempts, and his emergence as a consistent scoring option will benefit Ohio State with or without Sullinger on the floor. William Buford added 17 points and Aaron Craft was his usual self on the defensive end of the floor. Ohio State basically left Columbia with two blocks on which to build: Sullinger will be fine, and players stepping up in his absence displayed growth from last weekend's loss in Lawrence. 

3. Philly guards lead Syracuse to a win at NC State.
With NC State jumping out to a 12-4 lead the usual opinion about #1 Syracuse's non-conference schedule was conveniently brought up by many. Their first true road game, never leaving the state of New York until Big East play...and so it went. But in the midst of some patting themselves on the back they may have forgotten about the amount of talent at Jim Boeheim's disposal. What ensued was a stunning 20-0 Syracuse run, with the Orange playing their best basketball of the season during that stretch. The Wolfpack, much to their credit, would fight back and tie the game in the second half but that would be short-lived.

Guards Dion Waiters (22 points) and Scoop Jardine (16 points, four assists) led the way as the Orange pulled away for an 88-72 victory, and Kris Joseph added 21 points and five rebounds. In addition to Waiters, C.J. Fair and James Southerland scored 11 points apiece as the Orange reserves outscored NC State's bench 46-4 on the night. Feel free to use the convenient reasons to question Syracuse if you wish, but do so at your own peril. 

4. Speaking of Philadelphia, Saint Joseph's makes their first home game against Villanova a memorable one.
In the history of the Big 5 Saint Joseph's had never hosted Villanova at Hagan Arena before Saturday night, usually playing their home games at The Palestra. Thanks to the trio of Carl Jones, C.J. Aiken and Langston Galloway the Hawks made the first meeting a memorable one, outclassing the Wildcats 74-58 in a game they led by as many as 20 in the second half. Saint Joseph's shot 50.8% from the field while limiting the visitors to 33.3% shooting, and the second half turned into a dunk contest of sort at one point. Galloway finished with 20 points and six assists while Jones (15 points, four assists) and Aiken (11 points, seven rebounds and four blocks) also played well, and Ronald Roberts added 12 off the bench.

Outside of Maalik Wayns (19 points) Villanova received little of consequence offensively from anyone, and with Mouphtaou Yarou less than 100% they needed a Dominic Cheek (or anyone else) to step up. But the Wildcats looked startled by the environment, and instead of becoming more comfortable with the surroundings the opposite seemed to happen as the game wore on. There are some definite questions for Villanova to answer, especially their lack of three-point shooting, but there's no doubt that Saint Joseph's can be a factor in the Atlantic 10.  

5. Florida jumps Texas A&M from the start in what turned out to be a comfortable win.
There were concerns about what Billy Kennedy's team would be able to do in the second game of the Orange Bowl Classic against Florida given their strength of schedule, especially in the backcourt. Well, things got out of hand quickly as Florida jumped out to a 20-5 lead on their way to 50 first-half points and an 84-64 win. Kenny Boynton led four starters in double figures with 22 points (Erik Murphy's validated his return to the starting lineup with 13 points) and the Gators made 23 of 30 free throws to outscore the Aggies by 16 from the charity stripe. This all happened with Florida big man Patric Young taking just two shots on the afternoon.

Foul trouble didn't help the big man but this was a prime opportunity for an opponent to punish Florida for this, but Texas A&M was incapable of doing so. Shooting guard Elston Turner finished with 20 points and forwards Ray Turner (20 points) and Khris Middleton (12 points) were solid as well, but A&M can't entertain realistic thoughts of contending in the Big 12 if they don't get more out the guards not named Turner. Dash Harris, Jamal Branch and Jordan Green combined to shoot just 3-for-9 from the field, and that simply will not get it done.    

6. It may be too much to say that Butler saved their season, but that wouldn't be far off.
At the half of Butler's game against Purdue at Conseco Fieldhouse the Bulldogs trailed 46-35, but that margin didn't tell the whole story for Brad Stevens' team. Purdue shot 66.7% on two-point shots and turned the ball over just three times to Butler's nine, underlining the fact that the Bulldogs weren't defending at the level they need to in order to be successful. The choice was simple from an observer's standpoint: either Butler gets better defensively and has a shot at avoiding a seventh loss on the season, or they continue on that path and end up getting run out of the gym.

Butler chose the former, limiting Purdue to 19 points and 6-for-29 from the field in the second half to get back into the game. Andrew Smith's putback with a second remaining proved to be the difference in Butler's 67-65 win, an outcome the Bulldogs desperately needed. Smith and Kameron Woods scored 12 points apiece to lead the way offensively while Chase Stigall knocked down some big shots on his way to 11 points. Save their season? That may be a bit too dramatic but if Butler makes a run their win over Purdue will likely be seen as the catalyst. 

Quick Hitters 

1. The Elias Harris that many expect to see every game for Gonzaga showed up in Seattle, scoring 25 points (11-15 FG) and grabbing eight rebounds in the Bulldogs' 71-60 win over Arizona. Gonzaga scored the first 15 points of the game, establishing enough distance to hold off multiple Wildcat rallies. 

2. If losing at Middle Tennessee earlier in the week wasn't hard enough, Belmont fell 66-61 at Miami (Ohio) on Saturday. The reason: Belmont shot 6-for-28 from beyond the arc, and Julian Mavunga led the home team with 17 points and ten rebounds. 

3. Miami big man Reggie Johnson returned to the lineup in his first action of the season, and the difference in the Hurricanes was noticeable in their wild 93-90 double overtime win over FAU. Johnson accounted for 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five blocks in 36 minutes of action and Kenny Kadji led the way with 21 points. FAU may have one of the most entertaining backcourts that receives a limited amount of publicity, with Raymond Taylor (20 points, nine assists) and Omari Grier (27 points) giving the Canes fits all afternoon. 

4. Vanderbilt was handed their fourth loss of the season, this time losing at home 61-55 to Indiana State. Jake Odum controlled the flow of the action for the Sycamores, who received a nice boost off the bench from R.J. Mahurin (14 points). John Jenkins scored 11 points, making just three of ten shots for the Commodores. While Vandy may be in some trouble right now, it's safe to say that the race Indiana State will be a part of in the Missouri Valley will be fun to watch unfold. 

5. Kansas State moved to 7-1 thanks to a 71-58 win over #21 Alabama in Kansas City. One of the big reasons for the victory was the play of seven-footer Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, who put forth arguably the best game of his career with 17 points and eight rebounds. K-State out-rebounded the Crimson Tide 32-28 and took advantage of Alabama's inability to knock down perimeter shots (2-14 3PT) in the second half. 

6. Remember when New Mexico had the look of an early season disappointment? Steve Alford's team won its sixth straight on Saturday night, beating Oklahoma State 66-56 in Oklahoma City. Drew Gordon grabbed 20 rebounds and scored 13 points while Kendall Williams led the Lobos with 16 points. 

7. Stallon Saldivar's three-pointer with less than a second remaining gave Northern Arizona a much-needed 69-68 win over Arizona State in Tempe. The Lumberjacks are just one week removed from having Mike Adras step down as head coach due to their 2-7 start, and they've won two straight since. Saturday's win is also their second straight over Arizona State. 

8. They didn't get to welcome Marquette transfer Reggie Smith to the rotation (that will come on Monday) but that made little difference for UNLV, who got it done defensively in their 64-48 win over Illinois at the United Center. The Fighting Illini shot a frigid 25.4% from the field and Mike Moser led the Runnin' Rebels with 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.  

Six Notable Performances

1. G Reggie Hamilton (Oakland)
Hamilton was outstanding in the Golden Grizzlies' 82-80 win over Valparaiso, scoring 41 points to go along with four rebounds, four steals and three assists. Hamilton's jumper at the buzzer proved to be the difference. 

2. G Steven Pledger (Oklahoma)
31 points (10-13 FG), 10 rebounds and two steals in the Sooners' 79-74 win over Houston.

3. F Tyler Zeller (North Carolina)
31 points (11-15 FG) and 10 rebounds in the Tar Heels' 97-82 win over Appalachian State.

4. G Mike Moore (Hofstra)
32 points (7-11 3PT), seven rebounds and two steals in the Pride's 82-62 win over Manhattan, tying a school record for three-pointers made in a game.

5. F Julian Boyd (Long Island) and F Will Barton (Memphis)
Boyd finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds in the Blackbirds' 82-80 win over Saint Peter's while Barton put up 28 and 16 in Memphis' 95-87 loss at Louisville. 

6. F Anthony Davis (Kentucky) and F Drew Gordon (New Mexico)
Davis tallied 14 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in Kentucky's 87-62 win over Chattanooga while Gordon led New Mexico to their 66-56 win over Oklahoma State with 13 points and 20 rebounds.