Final Score: Louisville over Missouri, 84-61
Twitter-compatible recap: Russ Smith a gnat on defense. Ville forces 21 turnovers, finally gets going from perimeter. Luke Hancock erupts for 19, Siva outdoes Pressey.
Improved shooting. Louisville must have read our scathing recap of Louisville’s anemic offensive showing on Thursday versus Northern Iowa. The Cards appeared to play with a chip on their shoulder against Mizzou, lighting up the Tigers for nine 3-pointers. Louisville shot a season-high 49-percent from the floor in the team’s toughest challenge to date and looked much crisper running its half court sets.
Luke Hancock. He was 4 for 29 from behind the arc coming into Friday’s semifinal and a paltry 7 for 36 from the floor on the season, but all is forgiven now. The George Mason transfer couldn’t have picked a better time to come out of his rut, exploding for 19 points on 6 of 9 shooting (5-7 3FG) to lead the offensive charge.
Russ Smith. Smith is off to torrid start to his junior season. But while he’s been Louisville’s most productive player [by a lot] to date, he’s also been the team’s most exasperating. On full display again in the Bahamas, Smith is still a one-trick pony in transition. It could be a 5-on-1 break, with the lone defender cheating in on Smith, and he’d still take it to the basket himself. Smith likes to get up shots, and thus far, Louisville has, for the most part, liked watching him get up those shots. But the act could wear thin quickly, especially when the junior guard hits his first prolonged shooting slump. As effective as he’s been so far, Smith shouldn’t possibly have more field goal attempts than any other two players on the Louisville roster combined, as he does. That’s not how the Cards are programmed to win.
Dominant D. Louisville finished last season as the best defensive team in the nation in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency. Pitino’s squad is right back at the top again this season, sporting a defense that’s forced at least 18 turnovers in all five games this season, and at least 20 in four of the five. No team in college basketball is better equipped to atone for a weak half-court offense than the Cards, who own a playmaking defense that’s good for 10 to 15 easy scoring opportunities per game.
Missing Michael Dixon. Missouri was a dead man walking in this game whether Dixon played or not, but the team sure could have used the suspended senior guard to at least soften the blow of this regal beatdown. Phil Pressey was a turnover machine, forced to do too much without his backcourt running mate to open up the floor. Mizzou’s two biggest needs on the offensive end are a secondary ball-handler and another perimeter threat. Dixon solves both.
Frontcourt fortunes. Missouri’s new-look frontcourt has been a pleasant surprise this early in the season, thanks primarily to the stellar play of Laurence Bowers. Bowers, who is returning from a torn ACL that cost him all of last season, appears to be in tip-top shape, which, if he is, would give the Tigers the best offensive big man in the SEC. But Connecticut transfer Alex Oriakhi, not Bowers, was the interior player who left the biggest mark on Friday’s semifinal game. While Louisville limited Bowers to just six points, the Cards had no answer for their former Big East nemesis. Oriakhi finished with 15 points (7-11 FG) and 8 rebounds while holding Gorgui Dieng in check. If A.O. can sustain this level of play moving forward, Missouri will have a one-two frontcourt punch that can match up with any in the SEC short of Florida.