It was clear watching the game yesterday that the Orangemen just didn’t have the emotional energy to stick with the Cardinals for the full 40. The deflation was evident for all to see. UL began to score at will as the defensive intensity dropped several notches. Then we missed a few easy “bunnies” from in close and the deficit started to grow. UL got to a couple extra loose balls and their RWG (random white guy) began channeling Kobe, and the game was essentially over. Despite instituting a not-ineffective press defense, you could see that we just didn’t have the willpower to try to claw back into the game. I can’t fault them too much for it. It was an essentially meaningless game for SU, and unless every guy on the team has the competitive spirit of Michael Jordan it’s going to be hard to sustain the fight at that stage of the game. I’m not too worried. I guarantee you that, when the games matter again, SU is not going to lay down towards the end like they did on Saturday.
Now, I’m not saying they would have won that game if only they’d tried harder. UL is a pretty good team and it’s clear that they match up particularly well against us. Recall that in 2003 every single SU fan became a rabid Texas fan during the Elite Eight; we needed them to knock out UConn because UConn completely owned SU that year. As amazing a team as we had, UConn had the right mix of players and coaching to dominate us both times we played them (one regular season game, one BET game). Sure, it would have been great to beat UL yesterday, avenge one of our two losses, finish undefeated away from home, and send Freedom Hall to its grave crying. But all of those things are not much more than footnotes. Asterisks on a season record. They aren’t enough, by themselves, to motivate you to keep fighting when the fight is close to lost. So when things got tough midway through the second half, and the ball started to bounce the wrong way, you could tell that the SU players started to mentally pack it in and look ahead to the next stage of the season. They let the momentum sweep them away. I don’t blame them — I felt the same way when it started to get bad. “Oh well, this game doesn’t really matter anyway.” I’m confident in their ability to answer the bell when it matters. So I’m not worried.
That said, I still am thankful that Louisville is on the complete opposite side of the BET bracket, so we won’t have to face them again (unless both teams make it to the finals). Enjoy your five-day break, gentlemen, and take care of those nagging injuries. See you at noon Thursday.