Cards trying to push reset button again vs. Notre Dame

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Louisville's basketball team has been in this position before. Now coach Chris Mack hopes his players respond as well as they did the last time they absorbed a lopsided loss following a lengthy coronavirus pause.


Three days after UofL was pounded by Wisconsin 85-48 on Dec. 9 after being idle for 16 days, the Cardinals defeated Pittsburgh 64-54 on the Panthers' homecourt. Fast forward to February. When UofL (11-5, 6-4) hosts Notre Dame (9-11, 6-8) in the KFC Yum! Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday (ACCN) the Cards will be trying to bounce back from their historical 99-44 thrashing at North Carolina Saturday in their first outing in 19 days.


It was UofL's biggest conference loss ever, its most lopsided defeat of any kind since 1939 and the second largest in program history, falling short by nine points of the 61-7 loss to Centre on Feb. 18, 1920.


After the game, Mack said the next two days of practice were as important as any two his team has had all season and they needed to be two of the best. He said Monday afternoon that the Cards were halfway there after Sunday's workout.


"I really liked our guys' response," Mack said. "It's been a circus around here for two weeks, a wild deal -- on again, off again. I can't imagine players sitting in the dorm wondering, are we gonna have practice today, are we gonna play this Saturday? It's just the way the schedule has unfolded.


"I thought our response yesterday was a really good one. We're waiting here on practice number two I'm about to walk into and if it's anything like yesterday then we're gonna get a whole lot better. Now if that's good enough to beat Notre Dame I don't know, but we didn't perform well, we didn't do a lot of things well. North Carolina had a lot to do with it. I think we'll be better tomorrow."


It wouldn't take a whole lot. UofL allowed the Tar Heels to score at will in what looked like a layup drill. UNC scored 58 points in the paint, including nine dunks. And the Cards were just as inept at the other end, missing 15 of 16 three-pointers and shooting just 32.8 percent overall.


Malik Williams made his season debut against the Heels, playing 17 minutes with three rebounds, and he will probably see about the same amount of time Tuesday.


"I felt great," Williams said. "I was just excited to be out there; it had been too long, way too long. Physically, I feel pretty good. It's just about getting back in basketball shape. It's different when you can't actually go up and down the court and battle with all the physicality it takes to be successful. So it's just getting use to that stuff again."


Notre Dame has serious problems of its own, joining the Cards in trying to bounce back from a confidence-crushing defeat. In the Irish's case it was Saturday's 75-67 loss at Syracuse, in which they were cruising along with a 20-point lead with 16:49 left when the roof caved in. From that point on, they were outscored by a staggering 40-12.


And, also like Louisville, Notre Dame hopes to respond in the next game as it did after squandering a 17-point lead against Georgia Tech two weeks ago, but then edging Duke 93-89 a few days later in Cameron Indoor Stadium.


"It's on their (butts) to figure out how to bounce back and play in Louisville," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Either you're tough enough to attack or you're not. Either you're going to get over the hump, or you're not. We had our hearts broken at Georgia Tech and then we were tough enough to bounce back at Duke and scratch one out. So we've done this before. Can we do the same thing?"


Before the collapse at Syracuse, ND had won four of its previous give games and the Irish are trying to cobble enough quality wins together in the next two weeks to get into the hunt for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.


"I think we're playing pretty well," Brey said. "And we've been pretty good on the road. We've actually been better on the road offensively; we've been smoother. We are road dogs and here we go again."


Notre Dame's strength is its offense and in particular its outside shooting. The Irish are averaging  72.6 points per game, while making an average of nine three-pointers (second in the ACC) and shooting 38.1 percent from distance, third in the league.


"For us, we're going to have to score to escape people," Brey said. "We were on track to get 80 at Syracuse and then their press really bothered us and we couldn't score enough."


All five Notre Dame starters are averaging in double figures, but the primary focus of Louisville's defense is likely to be 6-10 forward Nate Laszewski and 6-5 point Prentiss Hubb. Laszewski is leading the team in both scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (7.8), is atop the ACC in field goal percentage (.648), including .515 from 3-point range (34-66). Hubb leads the ACC in assists with 6.20 per game and is also averaging 13.7 ppg.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

 

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