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No downplaying this loss for SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore played well against Louisville after spraining his ankle Monday. But an act of frustration that sent him to the bench with a fourth foul hurt the team in the second half. Cooper Neill/Getty Images

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas -- At 73, Southern Methodist Mustangs coach Larry Brown isn't into feel-good stories or moral victories.

He's trying to win at SMU, a place where basketball has largely been irrelevant for parts of three decades.

So forgive Brown if he didn't have much good to say about his team after an 84-71 loss to the Louisville Cardinals before a high-energy sellout crowd Wednesday night at Moody Coliseum.

SMU has already done enough work to make the NCAA tournament. The Mustangs have multiple wins over ranked teams this season -- and no opponent is going to be anxious to face them in the tournament.

But a win over defending national champion Louisville would have meant so much to this program. Indeed, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino has another squad capable of cutting the nets down at the end of the season.

A victory would have removed any doubt this team is good enough to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Chuckle if you want, but that's what it would have done.

A triumph would have propelled SMU, ranked 18th, closer to the top 10 and a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. More important, it would've enabled SMU to tie Louisville for second place in the American Athletic Conference.

Instead, Brown will spend more time Thursday reviewing video of the game with his players.

He'll show them the mistakes -- mental and physical. He'll show them examples of poor body language and lapses in poise.

He'll show them all of the little things that resulted in having their 15-game home winning streak snapped.

"We weren't prepared the way they were, and that's on me. We didn't handle their press," Brown said. "We didn't handle their intensity. This is about the eighth or ninth time we've had some adversity, and we haven't been able to handle it the way good programs do.

"We let a lot of things affect us and that allowed them to really go for the throat."

What the loss showed us is that SMU doesn't have enough depth and isn't good enough to win without its best players playing their best basketball against an elite program.

SMU lost because sophomore point guard Nic Moore, their best all-around player, couldn't stay on the court. He scored five points with four assists and four turnovers in just 19 foul-plagued minutes.

Brown wasn't even sure Moore would play. He sprained his ankle Monday during practice and spent Tuesday in a walking boot.

He ran gingerly during pregame warm-ups, but when the game started he was terrific. He helped SMU to a 20-12 lead with 9:47 left in the first half on a driving layup.

He also handled Louisville's pressure, making sure the Mustangs scored in transition. And he had quality possessions in half court when they didn't score off the press.

But he picked up his second foul with 9:37 left in the first half.

SMU pushed its lead to 26-12 on a short jumper by Marcus Kennedy. However, without Moore deftly handling Louisville's pressure, the game changed.

Louisville outscored SMU 20-4 and led 32-30 halftime lead.

Brown wasn't worried because SMU had committed 15 turnovers, played nearly 10 minutes without Moore and was down by only two points.

The second half started just like the first, with Moore controlling the tempo and the game.

With the score tied at 37-37, Louisville's Chris Jones stole the ball from Moore and scored on a driving layup as he drew the third foul on Moore.

Ten seconds later, the game changed for good when a frustrated Moore committed his fourth foul, which meant he was going to spend a big chunk of the second half on the bench.

"I admire the heck out of him," Brown said of Moore. "Ninety-nine percent of the people wouldn't have played tonight. He was hurting. I admire that he gave it a try, but I don't like the way he acted. He's better than that."

By the time Moore returned, Louisville led 65-58 and Cardinals guards Jones and Russ Smith had found a rhythm. For the game they combined to make 10 of 13 3-pointers.

SMU was the better team when Moore was on the court. He just didn't play enough.

"We don't understand that everything doesn't always go perfect, but you have to be man enough to fight through it and be supportive of another and it's amazing what you can do," Brown said. "I'm not going to beat them up. This is not the time to beat them up.

"But I want them to accept some responsibility for some of the things we did. I'm going to accept responsibility for some of the things we need to do better."

And if the Mustangs face Louisville in the conference tournament, Brown will expect a different result.