You'd think it wouldn't take much for a school like WKU to get ready to play a school like Louisville. You'd think they'd want to come into a big-name, in-state rival and make an early statement and put a fan favorite on the rocks.
You'd think that'd be the case. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite. At least in the first half.
WKU didn't hold a lead in the first half, and trailed by 18 at the halftime break, thanks to a 7-21 shooting performance and committing 12 first-half turnovers, as the Tops had 1.) no answer for Louisville's defense - the Cards showed great backcourt pressure and didn't allow the Tops to get anything inside and 2.) trouble establishing pace, running into a pair of first-half shot clock violations and jacked up some circus shots that only Steph Curry could hit. As the half continued, the Tops were able to find their way inside, but finished the half just 2-7 from close looks, with both buckets coming via Ben Lawson dunks (which were awesome).
Despite the hideous numbers, much of the first half was actually fairly close - Louisville didn't have a double-digit lead until a 20-10 score with 6:44 to play in the period, and didn't really blow the half open until a 14-4 run over the final 5:04 to end the first 20 minutes with a 34-16 lead.
When the second 20 minutes began, it was all WKU and it was glorious. The Tops opened on a 19-8 run over the first five and a half minutes, taking advantage of a fairly lackadaisical Louisville defense and exploiting the Cards for a number of fast breaks and, if you can believe it, the Tops actually controlled the boards for a good amount of that stretch.
Then reality came crashing down. Louisville used a 14-5 run to re-extend their lead to 62-40, and finished the game on a 31-24 run before the buzzer sounded, and Louisville won 78-56.
Four Cardinals - Quentin Snider (16), Trey Lewis (15), Damion Lee (15) and Chinanu Onuaku (10) - finished in double figures, and Onuaku added 12 rebounds to finish off a double double. Fredrick Edmond (14) and Justin Johnson (10) were the lone double-figure scorers for the Tops, while Edmond led the rebounding way with eight for WKU.
This is the ultimate "what if" game. What if the Tops didn't miss their first 13 three point attempts? What if the Tops didn't trail by 18 at halftime? What if the Tops didn't go on multiple runs of hitting just one of the last five shots? Two of the last 10 shots?
WKU's second half performance was enough to not leave an awful taste in Hilltopper fans mouth, but there's still a lot left to be desired after this one.
- Coming into the day, the Tops had hit at least one three pointer in 882 consecutive games, a streak that dated back to March of 1987 and was the third longest streak in all of college basketball. That streak was *finally* extended with a Chris Harrison-Docks three pointer with 6:43 to play. So, that still lives. Yay.
- Welcome back to the fold Fredrick Edmond. 12 points and eight boards is a heckuva "welcome back to the team," (not that he actually went anywhere, he just wasn't very productive since the Florida tournament thing). If losing like this means Edmond consistently becomes a double-digit threat, then I'll take it.
- Who would have thought after the Xavier game you would have thought the Tops could have played worse? That's how a lot of the first half felt.
- I really hope the series with Louisville continues. As horrible and boring as the ESPNU broadcast team was today, they were right about one thing - when Louisville and WKU play, it's good for college basketball and its good for the state. I'm sure if UofL has any interest in keeping the rivalry alive, WKU will work around it (like playing "home" games at Bridgestone as opposed to the Cards coming to BG). As someone who came to WKU from outside of the state, I've always had respect for UofL over UK because they weren't afraid to schedule the Tops. I hope they're proactive in making this series go on.