The beginning of the Louisville and Memphis game started out in much the same way the rivalry has produced through the years, frantic and emotion charged. The game ended the way many of the past games did too, with nail biting and late heroics.
The Cards came into the game known for not turning the ball over very often and had seven straight games with 10 or fewer but in rivalry games, stats can be thrown out of the window. Louisville had three turnovers in their first four possessions and trailed 6-0 right out of the gate. Luke Hancock got the Cards on the board at the 16:52 with a tough contested layup.
Trailing 16-9, Rick Pitino drew up the perfect play during a media timeout and the Cards ran it to perfection, finding Russ Smith on the side for an open 3-pointer that hit nothing but net. Memphis’s Chris Crawford answered Smith’s three with his own but Russ played the “anything you can do, I can do better” game and buried his second straight three, making it 19-15 with 9:49 to go.
Smith and Harrell were able to silence the raucous crowd briefly with one of the finest alley-oops you’ll ever see. Smith grabbed a rebound, took a few dribbles up court, and launched a beautiful pass from 10 feet behind half court, finding Harrell’s hands above the rim and being flushed home. The huge dunk made it 27-22 with 5:55 left in the half and gave the Louisville faithful new life. That new life got another big jolt on the ensuing play as Russ grabbed another missed Tiger shot and threw a very nice bounce pass while on the run, finding Luke Hancock who laid it in. Moments later, Memphis turned the ball over, leading to another alley-oop to Harrell, this time from Hancock and cutting the Tiger lead to one at 27-26.
Even though Smith was able to torch the Tigers for 15 points int he first half, his Cards still trailed 37-31 at halftime. Memphis was 15-1 when leading at half coming into the game. The second half was poised to give us more fireworks and skipped heartbeats and it did not disappoint.
Harrell and Smith provided almost all of the offense for Louisville but guys like Stephan Van Treese, Hancock and Terry Rozier stepped up and had big moments. The Cards must not have gotten the memo about Memphis’ success when leading at halftime as they raced out to a 7-2 run to start the stanza and get within one at 39-38 with 17:57 to go.
Like in the first half, Crawford and Michael Dixon were scoring at a nice clip for Memphis before drawing their fourth fouls and being limited in action and taking some of the wind out of the Tigers’ sails. Harrell hit a layup followed by a Chris Jones jumper to give the Cards their first lead at 42-41 with 16:15 to go.
Harrell was a man among boys on the interior all day but perhaps his biggest play came with the shot clock running down and him dribbling near the top of the circle. He calmly turned around a drained a 3-pointer sending the Cardinal faithful into a frenzy. On the next possession Van Treese was able to grab one of his four offensive rebounds and find Harrell again for an easy bucket while being fouled to push the Louisville lead to 53-49.
The momentum seemed to be all in the Cards’ favor after a “flagrant-one” foul was called on Memphis’ David Pellom after a made 3-pointer by Crawford brought the Tigers within 59-57. Van Treese hit both of the awarded free throws to push it back to four points at 61-57. The spurt by the Cards wasn’t over as Hancock made a nice strong drive for an easy layup and Van Treese found Harrell again for another monster jam to make it 65-57, forcing Josh Pastner to call a timeout with 4:47 left. That would be the last of the bright sports for the Cards.
As this rivalry has shown us in the past, no lead is safe and staying true to form, Memphis went on their own 8-0 run over the next 2:09 to tie the game. Crawford, now back in the game, then sent the Memphis crowd into total euphoria after he pulled up from 25 feet and nailed his fourth 3-pointer to put the home Tigers up 68-65 with 1:43 left. Pitino called a timeout and tried to draw up an answer but the Cards were never able to recover from the devastating run inflicted on them.
Memphis used a 15-1 run over the final 4:23 to complete the season sweep over the Cards and with it, put a truly remarkable ending on a truly remarkable rivalry.
Top performers for Louisville were Montrezl Harrell with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals and Russ Smith with 19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Hancock had 11 points but was only 1-6 from 3-point range and only had 1 rebound. The Cards were able to out rebound the Tigers 37-36 but free throws hindered them again, shooting only 60% (12-20) from the stripe while Memphis hit 18-26 (69%).
Michael Dixon and Geron Johnson led the Tigers with 18 points and 15 points respectively while Austin Nichols had 14 and Crawford finished with 12 on four 3-pointers, including the aforementioned dagger.
Next up for Louisville is a road game to SMU on Wednesday March 5 for a 7:00 PM tip off.