NEW ORLEANS - A few quick bulleted thoughts on the first half of our first Final Four matchup:
Louisville should be thrilled it trails by only seven. The Cardinals are, as expected, outclassed at every position. Nothing is coming easy on the offensive end -- every shot is challenged, every drive to the rim feels hopeless, every turnover feels like a death knell. Louisville shot 12-of-32 from the field, and scored just .77 points per possession, in the first half. Kentucky, on the other hand, shot 15-of-25. Yet the Cardinals closed the gap late in the second half, and remain very much in this game.
How? Turnovers, mostly. The Wildcats have coughed the ball up eight times, several of which have led to Russ Smith-piloted run-outs and fast-break buckets, exactly the thing Louisville needs to stay in this tilted talent mismatch. But Kentucky has, with the exception of the turnovers, been pretty much peerless on the offensive end. A few more made 3s (they're 1-of-5) and fewer turnovers, and this thing isn't close. Louisville's defense is very good, but the Wildcats are mostly getting what they want on the offensive end.
It also helped Louisville that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky's do-it-all small forward, left the game with his second foul with just under 14 minutes to play. The charge call that landed him his second foul was slightly questionable (shocker, I know), but either way, Kentucky managed to maintain its hold on the game without MKG on the floor. That's good news, obviously.
Gorgui Dieng finished the first half with a block and a huge dunk on a Louisville fast break, and his final counting numbers (5 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks) were solid, but he struggled for much of the half. He missed a wide-open dunk, he turned the ball over three times and he finished 2-of-7 from the field. He'll have to be more sure-handed in the paint, because Louisville's main line of attack -- rushing Peyton Siva and Smith to the rim, then dishing to a big man and hoping for the best -- requires Dieng to finish clinically on the block. He hasn't thus far.
What John Calipari is probably telling his team at the half: Slow down, take your time on offense, but don't be casual. "Be fast, but don't hurry," is a classic John Woodenism, and it applies here. Kentucky is too much for the Cardinals to handle on both ends. As long as Kentucky controls the game, limits turnovers and gets good looks on offense, the Wildcats will win. It's really pretty simple.
What Rick Pitino is probably telling his team at the half: Get into these guys. Louisville has to turn Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb over to stay in this thing, because Kentucky is too good defensively to allow buckets to this so-so offense in a straight half-court matchup situation. The Cardinals could use some 3s in the second half, but they also need to keep pushing for interior buckets from Chane Behanan and Dieng. Behanan, in particular, can score against Terrence Jones; he just needs the space and time to create his own look in the post. The Cardinals should be pretty happy they're not trailing by a larger deficit here, but they still have much to improve if they plan on pulling off this unlikely upset.