Cards employ press ‘D’ to embarrass RU
LOUISVILLE, KY. — Only 51 seconds and a 6-0 lead into the Rutgers men’s basketball team’s 102-54 loss last night to defending national champion Louisville, the Cardinals unloaded their full-court press.
With the teams’ disparities clear as the surface of Louisville’s championship trophy and scoring so easy for No. 13 Louisville, sacrificing half-court defense wasn’t actually much of a sacrifice.
Louisville (21-4, 10-2) showed a consistent fast break, intelligent movement without the ball and consistent outside shooters throughout the roster.
The Scarlet Knights (10-16, 4-9) sometimes show that crisp offense, but they lacked it in the KFC Yum! Center.
“In the dog days of February, we try to make sure we have fun because people get tired,” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino postgame. “I said, ‘Look, let’s have some fun,’ because February’s a tough month.”
Head coach Eddie Jordan removed all Rutgers starters for the rest of the game with 7:29 left in the game. Louisville nearly doubled Rutgers’ score at that point, leading, 81-45.
Louisville’s offense controlled Rutgers so heavily it often passed up open layups to kick it out to the 3-point line.
Wing Luke Hancock scored a career-high 25 points. He freely maneuvered through Rutgers’ defense when necessary, but camped by the 3-point line for a 6-for-8 3-point clip.
“When we were in our zone, we didn’t find him well enough,” Jordan said. “I have to do a better jump on our guys to get out on shooters and play better defense.”
Rutgers left Hancock unguarded when Louisville led, 71-36, with about 11 minutes left. He ran from the left perimeter to the right of the key and back.
When he got the ball, wings Malick Kone and Kerwin Okoro contested him. That left center Stephan Van Treese open in the paint for one of Louisville’s many emphatic two-handed dunks.
At that point, Louisville held a 30-12 second-half scoring advantage.
Louisville won the rebounding battle, 39-24, and sometimes got multiple offensive boards on a possession.
The Cardinals missed consecutive 3-point attempts, but rebounded both about 5 to 10 feet from the hoop. Then senior forward Wally Judge received a goaltending call, giving Louisville a 66-27 lead with 14:26 left in the game.
Louisville began its dominance early with three consecutive 3-pointers, en route to 7-for-14 3-point shooting in the first half.
“It was transition when they were making shots,” said junior guard Myles Mack. “So I don’t think it was our half-court ‘D.’ I think our half-court ‘D’ was pretty solid. I think we just needed to get back in transition.”
Guard Terry Rozier led the way with 14 points, including 4-for-6 3-point shooting, as the Cardinals ended the first half with a 43-24 lead.
Louisville’s first-half lead extended as far as 36-16 with 5:04 left, as Jordan’s substitutions showed little offensive firepower.
Rutgers’ bench combined for 5 points off 2-for-10 shooting. Junior wings Kone and Craig Brown and junior guard Jerome Seagears combined for that clip, sometimes missing wide from outside.
Louisville showed early why it is on the verge of its 40th NCAA Tournament appearance, vying for its 11th Final Four appearance and fourth championship.
Rutgers’ goals are more modest.
“Hopefully we can play well enough to reach sixth place in the league and earn that bye in the first round of the tournament,” Jordan said. “So don’t get devastated by the numbers on the scoreboard. It’s just one loss.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.