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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
TMA: Louisville surge continues v. UConn

By Myron Medcalf

The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best basketball action.

No. 23 Louisville 80, UConn 59: Over the weekend, an inspired Huskies squad destroyed Seton Hall following a series of inspirational developments. Last week, Jim Calhoun commenced an indefinite medical leave. Shortly after that news broke, interim coach George Blaney called on his team’s leaders to, well, lead.

Alex Oriakhi called a pregame meeting with players and stressed unity and selflessness. The result: a 69-46 win over the Pirates. And finally, a reason to cling to the slight possibility that the Huskies might finally reverse their problematic patterns after they’d snapped a four-game losing streak.

And then, Monday happened. It was a weak effort for the Huskies. Yeah, teams lose sometimes. The best teams have bad nights. But that same motivated crew that whipped Seton Hall didn’t come to play on the road against a surging Louisville team. Ryan Boatright scored 18 points. The other four starters? A combined 7-for-29 from the field. The Huskies shot 3-for-14 from the 3-point line.

In the second half, the Cardinals took the fight out of the Huskies as they pulled away and feasted on their vulnerable foe. To UConn’s credit, the struggling assembly fell to one of the hottest teams in the Big East. But that’s no excuse for that lackluster effort.

Rick Pitino is clearly cooking something poisonous in that league. The Cardinals, ranked ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, have won five straight. And although they’ve never entered a game at 100 percent due to injuries, their speed and relentless defense (they’ve held Big East opponents to a 38 percent clip from the field, second in the conference) continues to carry a program that could do damage in March.

Three Cardinals reached double figures and the team shot 11-for-25 from the 3-point-line. But they were monsters on defense. Gorgui Dieng shook off a weekend ankle injury to score 15 points and grab six rebounds. He was crucial to Louisville’s ability to hold future lottery pick Andre Drummond to an 0-for-6 outing. The Cardinals forced 15 turnovers and just ran the floor all evening, allowing their defense to spur their offensive production.

So here’s what you should take away from this game. The Huskies haven’t figured it out yet, and based on their troubling body language against the Cardinals, this thing could continue to spiral downward. The Cardinals, however, appear to be headed in the opposite direction. They’re like a sprinter reaching his peak just in time for the championship races. Louisville is definitely a team to watch closely in the coming weeks.

No. 4 Missouri 71, Oklahoma 68: Two days after an emotionally taxing victory – Saturday’s 74-71 home win over then-No. 8 Kansas – the Tigers found themselves in a surprising battle with the same Oklahoma squad that they’d defeated by nearly 40 points last month.

But the fourth-ranked Tigers held on and claimed first place in the Big 12 after shooting 56 percent from the field and forcing 16 turnovers. Ricardo Ratliffe’s double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Marcus Denmon’s 25 points were vital for the Tigers.

It wasn’t easy for Frank Haith’s squad. Steven Pledger missed a game-tying 3-pointer that rattled in and out of the rim at the buzzer. He’d knocked down a critical trey minutes earlier to pull the Sooners within two points of the Tigers, who were outrebounded 31-18 in Norman, Okla.

The Tigers, however, handled the quick turnaround from Saturday’s victory over the Jayhawks like professionals. This team is not very deep or big, but the Tigers are one of the most mature squads in America.

After the Kansas victory, Haith made players report to a local hotel by 2 a.m., a smart move to contain the postgame celebration for a team that had to travel the next day. Every player met the curfew.

But that wasn’t the only moment related to this game that showcased Missouri’s class. After Pledger missed the 3 at the buzzer, two Tigers walked over to the heartbroken junior and helped him up. Classy.

Haith has something special in Columbia with this disciplined group.