In what is expected to be the Cardinals final trip to Morgantown, Rick Pitino’s team was able to squeak in the win.
It was an ugly affair, with the Cardinals getting dominated much of the game, but the efforts of Russ Smith, Kyle Kuric, and the return of Wayne Blackshear provided the Cardinals the boost to get yet another crucial road win.
Reports emerged this week that West Virginia had reached an agreement with the Big East conference to allow them to flee for the Big 12 in July for a small $20 million fee.
Wayne Blackshear was certainly the biggest surprise of the afternoon, as the highly touted forward dropped 13 points including nine from behind the arc. Few expected Blackshear to have such a huge impact in his first regular season appearance. At first the 2011 Illinois Mr. Basketball looked lost, leaving Mountaineer star Kevin Jones unguarded for an easy three. However, Blackshear quickly proved his offensive worth shooting 56% from the field.
Big East player of the year favorite Kevin Jones was dominant on the boards, leading WVU with 22 points and 11 rebounds. He was assisted in the first half by the performance of Deniz Kilici, who simply couldn’t be stopped by the Cardinals and had 15 points at the half. The Cardinals entered the locker room down 7.
However, the second half belonged to the Cardinals as Russ Smith sparked the Cardinals halfway in the second period. Smith returned to the Russ of old, motivating the once again stagnant Louisville offense.
The front court play that has facilitated Louisville’s winning streak was nowhere to be found Saturday, as Gorgui Dieng reverted to falling into foul trouble. Chane Behanan couldn’t finish any opportunities, and the various Louisville backups couldn’t stop West Virginia’s big men.
The work of the Louisville guards kept the Cardinals hanging around and with the WVU’s Kilici falling into foul trouble the Mountaineers, lost all momentum. The Cards pulled ahead with over two minutes left in the game, and didn’t give the lead up.
The deciding play coming from Kyle Kuric on defense, intercepting a pass intended for Kevin Jones down low.
The Cardinals’ free throw shooting also proved invaluable. UofL shot 87% from the charity stripe, their best all year.
With their sixth straight victory, Louisville silences all doubt of its return to form. However, their biggest game of the year comes Monday with a huge “White Out” game against #2 Syracuse. A victory on Monday would secure the Cardinals a high seed in the Big East Tournament and some validation for their mid-season woes.