Cards' strategy backfires as Gophers get hot from downtown in upset

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack did what the scouting report on Minnesota told him he should do. He did what any sensible coach would have done. Pack the paint and make the Gophers step out of their comfort zone and beat you from outside.


He did, and they did. Tenth-seeded Minnesota (22-13) put on an uncharacteristic shooting clinic and made UofL's stay in the NCAA Tournament a short one by upsetting the No. 7 Cardinals 86-76 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Esat Regional Thursday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa.


And was that laughter and cheers I heard coming from Greece, where Rick Pitino is coaching these days and undoubtedly celebrating his son Richard's first career NCAA tourney victory at the expense of his former school that fired him?


Minnesota came into the game in Wells Fargo Arena having averaged just five made 3-pointers per game, which ranked 344th nationally, and had just one player shooting better than 30 percent beyond the arc.


But against UofL, the Gophers looked like the Golden State Warriors from beyond the arc, hitting 11-of-27 (41.7 percent), one fewer than their season high and equaling their total in three games in the Big Ten Tournament.


 That's 33 points and Minnesota still managed to outscore UofL in the paint, 30-28, and on second-chance points, 17-11, thanks in part to 11 offensive rebounds.


"Coming into the game we felt like their strength was in the paint," Mack said. "Tough thing when you know their identity is built around the paint and they make shots like they did today. But they earned the victory and we weren't quite good enough."


Freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur triggered the 3-point assault, drilling 5-of-11, and he was 8-of-14 overall. He finished with 24 points, 14 above his season average, one less than his season high and two more than he scored in the three league tourney games combined. On the season Kalscheur had hit 41.6 percent (72-143) of his treys before Thursday.


"He's a great shooter," Richard Pitino said. "When he's good and understanding where his shots are coming from, he's terrific."


But Kalscheur wasn't the only Gopher making life miserable for UofL's defense on the perimeter. Junior guard Amir Coffey hit 3-of-7 en route to 18 points, and senior forward Jordan Murphy, who had hit only 6-of-26 triples all season, made a pair to highlight his 18 points.


"They were giving it to us and we eased into it after the first five minutes and started to get confident," Kalscheur said. "Everybody was feeding off each other. It's just forgetting about the one you missed and going on to the next. Confidence is a big key."


Said Murphy: "Once Gabe saw the ball go through the hoop for him, and then Amir, that's when our offense really started to flow. Man, I love when we take advantage of a collapsing defense. It was fun seeing that confidence and he's smiling a little."


UofL's pack line defense wasn't effective, so Mack tried a 1-3-1 zone and some full-court pressure, but that didn't help much either.


However, 3-point shooting wasn't the only factor in Minnesota's win, just the most interesting. The Gophers' man-to-man defense never let the Cards (20-14) get comfortable offensively, pushing them further out on the court, and never letting them get comfortable or find any kind of rhythm. And, with Minnesota only committing a season-low five turnovers, UofL was unable to translate defense into offense and easy baskets, their bread and butter.


"We played really good defense when we needed to and showed great toughness and grit down the stretch," Pitino said. "We were really locked in for 40 minutes. Our guys stuck to the scouting report, disrupted them, bothered them, got a lot of deflections. It's a terrific win, a special moment for our program, to beat a really good Louisville team."


Minnesota's defense was particularly effective against Jordan Nwora, UofL's leading scorer. Nwora notched a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds, but he scored his only points of the second half on a 3-pointer at the 18:43 mark. Christian Cunningham led the Cards with 22 points, while Steven Enoch had 14 and Darius Perry came off the bench to get 12 points while logging 26 minutes, his most playing time since December.


Minnesota led 38-33 at halftime before taking control early in the second half and stretching its advantage to as many as 19 points, 62-43, with 9:48 remaining after Kalscheur had scored nine straight points on back-to-back 3-pointers followed by three free throws when he was fouled on another attempted trifecta.


"They delivered quite a punch and we were playing uphill from there," Mack said. "It's really a tough feeling to end your season so quickly in the NCAA Tournament."


Still trailing 73-58 with 5 1/2 left, the Cards rallied to within 76-69 at the 2:05 mark, but Cunningham missed an open 3-pointer that could have put more pressure on the Gophers and Minnesota scored the next four points on free throws to settle the issue.


Cunningham and Perry combined to score Louisville's last 15 points, with Perry draining back-to-back 3 pointers and adding a layup. Cunningham scored all 17 of his second-half points in the final 9 1/2 minutes, all on drives or free throws resulting from penetration.


"Just trying to make a comeback, trying to turn the game around," Cunningham said. "But we dug ourselves too big of a hole."


Despite the loss -- UofL has now won just one NCAA Tournament game in the last four years -- Mack said he counts it as a successful season, given the expectations and the depleted roster he inherited last March.


"I am very proud of our group," he said. "They exceeded a lot of people's expectations. It's sorta hard to see that in the movement, but to get a group that was picked 11th preseason in our conference into the NCAA Tournament, I don't take that lightly."

 

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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