A day after Providence dropped their second in a row, this time to in-state foe Brown, Louisville was playing an intrastate game of their own. The stakes were a little big higher, however.
Gaining a small measure of revenge from last season’s loss in the national semifinals, #4 Louisville raced out to a 17 point advantage over Kentucky and held on late to improve their record to 12-1 in non-conference play.
Their only loss came to #1 Duke.
Looking to bounce back from a pair of disappointing road losses to Brown and Boston College, the Friars face perhaps their stiffest road test of the season in front of nearly 21,000 fans at the KFC Yum! Center – a far cry from the 2,800 PC saw Friday night.
Any hopes of Louisville overlooking the Friars off of the high of the Kentucky win were vanished last January when Providence humiliated Rick Pitino and the Cards at the Dunkin Donuts Center, 90-59. It was the second season in a row in which Providence defeated Louisville at home.
What to look for in this one?
1. How do the Friars react to a fiery postgame press conference by Ed Cooley? It was the second game in a row in which Cooley voiced his frustration with his group, calling it a “pathetic performance” against BC, then labeling his team “fragile” and “soft” following the Brown loss. It was a far cry from the praise Cooley bestowed upon the short-handed group that ran out to an 8-2 start in the first semester.
Meeting Cooley’s challenge starts with defending more effectively. Brown and BC combined for 20 three point field goals, and BC’s Ryan Anderson feasted inside against Providence in scoring 17 second half points.
2. Where does PC’s backcourt stand for this one? Part of Providence’s success the past two seasons against Louisville has been the Cards’ willingness to press Vincent Council 94 feet. The PC point guard is a superior open court player. He torched Louisville a season ago to the tune of 15 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds.
Council is still working him back from a hamstring injury that cost him all but five minutes of the first semester, and while 22 ppg scorer Bryce Cotton has been a revelation as a junior (most recently lighting up BC for 33 points) he’s been in and out of the lineup with an assortment of injuries – missing losses to Penn State and Brown and limping throughout in the Rhode Island victory.
Cotton had perhaps his best game of 2011-12 against Louisville, scoring 27 points on only seven field goal attempts (5-5 from 3, 10-12 at the free throw line).
Louisville has a huge advantage in the interior, especially with Gorgui Dieng back from a broken wrist, and if the Friars are to make it competitive on Wednesday night they’ll need Council and Cotton both healthy and effective.
3. Can Providence limit the turnovers? Pitino’s bunch is forcing a Big East-high 20 turnovers per game. As a point of comparison, the Cards are coming up with nearly 12 steals a game – almost double that of Providence this season. Louisville is third in the conference in points against at just over 57 per, and their ability to turn defense into offense has them behind just Syracuse in points per game at over 78 a night.
4. Who has been leading the way for the Cards? South Kent product Russ Smith has been instant offense for
Pitino throughout his career, but has taken that to another level as a junior, scoring 19.8 points per game. He’s scored 18 or more in nine of their 13 games this season.
Peyton Siva remains the leader, and a clutch player. He was voted the Big East’s Preseason Player of the Year by the league’s coaches, in large part thanks to a huge Big East Tournament last year. His scoring has been up and down a bit, but up when Louisville has needed it most. Siva’s four highest scoring games this year? He put up 20 in a 66-63 win over Illinois State and 19 against Duke, Kentucky and Memphis.
Where Louisville may present the biggest problems for the Friars is on the interior, where Dieng got his first game back under his belt on Saturday and the 6’7, 250 pound Chane Behanan has really come on of late after a slow start. Behanan had 20 points and seven boards against Kentucky and would pose a matchup nightmare if Kadeem Batts is in foul trouble or forced to cover Dieng. He’s been fighting the flu and may not play, which would be a big break for PC.
Wayne Blackshear hasn’t taken off like some expected in year two, but is capable of a big night, while freshman Montrezl Harrell is the typical of physical presence PC has struggled with. He was a terror at Hargrave last season.
5. Was Friday night a breakout for LaDontae Henton? Lost in the disappointment of a loss to an Ivy League school on Friday was the ridiculous offensive display Henton put on over the final ten minutes. He’d struggled all year with his three point shot (23% coming in) after shooting it well from deep as a freshman (39%), but caught fire in making six 3s on Friday and scoring 19 points over the game’s final ten minutes. The result was a 37 point performance that was overshadowed by team-wide defensive deficiencies.
Henton benefitted greatly from the return of Council, who consistently utilized a high screen and pop with Henton from the top of the key to get the sophomore forward great looks from his sweet spot.
Does the return of Council mean this much to Henton’s game? It certainly didn’t hurt.
Email Kevin at email@example.com