Ready or not, the Big East season is here for a Providence team that stumbled in their final two non-conference games – road losses to Brown and Boston College – and while the Friars started hot, leading 8-0 and then 13-3, #4 Louisville out-scored PC 34-19 to close out the first half before ripping off a 14-0 second half spurt on their way to an 80-62 victory.
We didn’t see a tidal wave from the Cards, rather Louisville methodically picked the Friars apart in the second half, scoring on the interior with ease and repeatedly finding open three pointers versus PC’s 2-3 zone in an all-too-familiar looking Big East opener for PC.
Cotton hot early, silent late, in return. Cotton scored eight points in the game’s first 10 minutes, drilling a pair of three pointers and a jumper to spark PC early after missing the Brown game with a knee injury. When it looked as though Louisville was poised to pull away late in the first half, he made his third 3 point shot of the half, pulling Ed Cooley’s bunch to within eight and setting the stage for them to head to the locker room down two possessions after Vincent Council made a layup at the horn to make it 37-31.
There would be no repeat of his 27 points performance (in which he made 5-5 from 3 and 10-12 at the free throw line) on this night, however, as Rick Pitino’s bunch locked in on the Big East’s leading scorer, holding him without a point until he canned a three pointer with 3:36 to play in what was then a 19 point game. Cotton his another three late to finish with 16 points on 4-8 from deep.
Turnovers rattled Providence early. Down 37-31 at the half, Cooley might have been wondering where his team might have stood had they not given the ball up 11 times in the opening stanza. Few teams in the country turn defensive into offense like the Cardinals, and while Russ Smith kept Louisville in it early as they stumbled out of the gates, easy looks off of PC turnovers turned the tide of the game.
Providence did a much better job of handling the ball in the second half, as they ended with only 16 turnovers on the night, but as the points off of turnovers dried up, Louisville found their offensive footing, as they stopped taking the immediate 18 footers that Providence dared them to shoot and started moving the Friar defense for easy shots at the rim and wide open three pointers.
Dieng finding his footing. A month ago it was unclear if Gorgui Dieng would be available for this one, as he was shelved with a broken wrist, but the big man – perhaps the Big East’s best interior defender – returned this weekend against Kentucky.
Dieng dominated inside tonight, making 5-6 shots on his way to an 11 point, 11 rebound, four block night. He passed well from the block as well, dishing out three assists.
Smith wins the scoring guard battle. A year ago Russ Smith made just 1-4 shots in Providence’s 31 point blowout
win against Louisville at the Dunkin Donuts Center. PC wasn’t so lucky this year.
In a game featuring the Big East’s leading scorer in Cotton and its third leading scorer in Smith, the junior guard came off the bench to right the offense when Louisville struggled early and continued to make big shots throughout in scoring 23 points on 4-5 from three point range.
Batts a bright spot. Those hesitant to buy into an improved Kadeem Batts had to have been pleased with how he fared going head to head with Dieng. While a few of his eight made field goals were of the circus variety, Batts was a steadying force on the interior, where PC otherwise put up little resistance on either end. He finished the night 8-11 with 17 points and seven rebounds.
He was the most aggressive Friar on the floor tonight.
Council working his way back. A year ago, Council dominated Louisville to the tune of 15 points, 14 assist and eight rebounds. He showed flashes Wednesday night, but having just returned and playing against 94 feet of pressure, anything more than spurts could not have been expected.
His 11 point, six assist night was respectable, but beyond the numbers he provided a stabilizing presence when Providence was shaky with the ball otherwise. There’s just a different feel when the senior point guard has the ball in his hands.
Johnson sees little playing time. In perhaps of sign of where he stands on the depth chart, Sidiki Johnson didn’t see the floor until the game was out of reach, as Cooley opted to go with Brice Kofane in the first half and inserted him in the lineup over Johnson in the second. Cooley had talked about Johnson as a possible 9-10 rebound player prior to his debut in December and PC could have used another interior presence on this night.
From strength to weakness, another team finds open looks from deep. Providence’s three point defense has officially sprung a leak. BC and Brown combined to make 20 three pointers, while Louisville found themselves with wide open looks throughout, making 7-18.
Aggression bonus. Louisville took 21 free throws to Providence’s nine, as they were far more aggressive in taking the ball to the rim.
What does it mean? 8-5 Providence has now dropped three straight and desperately needs a win against DePaul on Saturday night to right the ship. The Demons are sandwiched between a pair of top 10 opponents – Louisville and Syracuse who comes to the Dunk next week – and Cooley’s bunch sorely needs a morale boost after playing with tremendous confidence for the better part of December.
Offense won’t be a problem for PC. The Friars have three players who have scored over 30 points in a game already this season (Henton, Cotton, Batts) and Council is back finding good looks for all of them, but the defensive woes that plagued them against BC and Brown were on display once again Wednesday night as Louisville shot over 50% from the field while handing out 22 assists.
How quickly Cooley can solve the defensive issues will determine just how competitive this group will be in conference play. They can score with most in the Big East, but the defensive effort is once again resembling what Friartown has seen in recent seasons which is very troubling.
Email Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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