LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Midway through their game against Notre Dame on Saturday, things were looking good for Louisville. They had just used a 19-5 run to take control of the game, and went into halftime with a seven point lead. Sure, the defensively they weren't looking all that impressive, but the Cardinals' offense was putting them in position for the victory.
It was a critical game for a number of reasons. It was already an emotionally charged afternoon with Russ Smith in attendance for his jersey retirement. It also was the start of a rough stretch in ACC play, one that Louisville desperately needed come out on the other side relatively unscathed if they were to salvage any hope of making the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, Louisville once again found themselves on the wrong end of another bad loss.
The Fighting Irish continued to get whatever they wanted from beyond the arc, and the Cardinals' offense went ice cold down the stretch. Notre Dame outscored Louisville 44-25 in the second half, and wound up handing the Cards an 82-70 loss - their fourth over the last five games.
And at the end of the game, fans let the team know their displeasure with how the game - and the season up to this point - unfolded. The players and coaches walked off the court to a chorus of boos from the 16,175 in attendance.
It wasn't the first time the boo birds have made an appearance this season. In Louisville's previous home game against NC State - one that resulted in a 79-63 thrashing - a much less audible version broke through as the game ended.
But this iteration was much more noticeable. It was to the point where even the players and coaches addressed them after the loss.
“I'm frustrated too," head coach Chris Mack said. "I appreciate everybody coming tonight, they care deeply. They care deeply. They want Louisville to win, we want Louisville to win. Trust me, we're trying to do everything we can to get better and to improve."
It's hard to envision things getting much better in the immediate future. Louisville heads to Virginia next, returns home to host both Duke and North Carolina, then heads back on the road to Syracuse and Notre Dame again. Not exactly a stretch where you can identify a "get right game".
It's also hard to envision things getting much better based on what we say Saturday against the Irish. Louisville's defense - which at one point was ranked 12th in the nation according to KenPom - allowed Notre Dame to shoot 63.3 percent from the field and 15-23 on three point attempts.
Mack attributed this to a breakdown in communication on that end of the court, and that his guys were not loud enough when it came to calling out switches - particularly in the pick and roll.
Whatever the reason may be that Louisville is ending up on the wrong side of the win/loss column more often than what fans come to expect, both guard Jarrod West and Malik Williams expressed that where they currently stand is not acceptable.
"I understand the frustration. There's a standard here, and we're not living up to it right now," West said. "I know it's hard for me, but again, there's an expectation here. Right now, we're not really in a position to say that we met that expectation."
Williams echoed West's sentiments regarding the boos, but had a lot more to say than that. The fifth-year senior said that Notre Dame didn't do "anything special," and chalked up the Irish's performance to their lack of defensive effort.
"It's very, very disappointing," he said, talking about the effort. "Especially on a night like this. It was a special day for a very special player and person in this program, and in the city. I feel like we let him down."
Williams also said a lot without saying anything at all.
When asked if the players are still responding to the coaching staff or have tuned them out, Williams took a long pause and lightly shook his head before responding with "I don't have a comment for that."
Not exactly a message that inspires hope for a turnaround. Especially considering Louisville has to travel to Virginia on just a two-day turnaround.
"Now it's a matter of, in 48 hours, can we feel a heck of a lot better about ourselves and about the effort that we give against Virginia to come back with a road win?,” Mack said.
We'll find out Monday at 7:00 p.m.
(Photo of Prentiss Hubb, Jarrod West: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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