BY MIKE RILEY
Sub-par first-half shooting and some second-half defensive lapses led to a 73-67 loss for No. 12 Louisville on Thursday to No. 24 Memphis in American Athletic Conference action at the Yum! Center.
It was the first home loss for Louisville this season.
Louisville (13-3, 2-1 AAC) never led in the first half and trailed 36-33 at halftime. The Cardinals’ shooting then picked up somewhat, allowing them to take a 61-55 lead on a Montrezl Harrel basket with 5:26 left.
Memphis (11-3, 2-1) then rallied to tie the game at 64. Russ Smith then hit 1 of 2 free throws for Louisville. Shaq Goodwin then answered with 2 of 2 at the line for Memphis to put the Tigers back on top.
Harrell then scored on an assist from Luke Hancock to give Louisville what would be their last lead as Geron Johnson answered with two free throws for Memphis with 1:24 left.
The Tigers extended their lead when Joe Jackson got the benefit of a goaltending call on Harrell.
Hancock, who was the game’s leading scorer with 20 points then got a good look at a trey but missed. Smith grabbed the offensive board, but came down out of bounds. Jackson then hit 1 of 2 at the line with 18 seconds left before a Goodwin basket provided the final margin.
“Well, you have to give them credit,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “They made some shots. We got confused a couple of times with the game on the line with what defense we’re in. We didn’t get confused one time last year. I don’t know what’s so difficult about it, but for some reason, we probably can’t play as many defenses, although we only played two.
“We didn’t play really well. We turned it over at crucial times, got into low defense, gave up the 3 and missed free throws, but we have to give them credit. They outplayed us. We have a tough game coming up, one of the best statistical teams in the nation. We have to get Memphis down there when play them and can’t hang our heads right now, because this is a much tougher league than all of us anticipated.”
Smith added 19 points for Louisville while Harrell had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Memphis placed all five starters in double figures. Goodwin and Jackson each had 15 points. Johnson had 13, Chris Crawford 12 and Austin Nichols 10.
“First of all, great win,” said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. “I want to give obviously Louisville [credit], who is a tremendous team. Coach Pitino is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, so for a young guy like me to have the honor to coach against him, it’s an honor. Obviously, we probably wouldn’t be in the American — originally when we were going to the Big East and now the American — without Coach Pitino.
“There are two reasons why we won the game. I felt my staff and my assistant coaches did a great job all week in preparation and keeping the guys together. So my staff was just really, really good. Obviously, we had a tough game on Saturday against a great Cincinnati team and they obviously kicked our butt and there was a lot of stuff going on in the city with everyone. The Earth was flat for the next four days. And so my staff did a great job of keeping the guys together. And then obviously in the end the players made plays. This is a player’s game. Players make plays and that’s what it comes down to. We made some shots when we needed to make some shots and that’s the bottom line.”
Louisville trailed by as much as seven before halftime as before a late run which included 3-pointers by Smith and Terry Rozier pulled them to within three.
It would have been much worse without the play of Hancock, who came off the bench to score 14 of his points before halftime. Louisville shot only 36 percent (13 of 36) in the first half.
“I think they did an excellent job,” Pitino said of Memphis. “I think they took us of the bounce and hurt us. I think they rebounded very well. I thought their freshman is a really good freshman, Austin Nichols. He made a lot of good plays our guards didn’t block when they rotated. We’re just not the defensive team we once were in the past two years, because our basketball IQ is just not that good this year and we need to get better at it.”
Two early second half baskets by Smith allowed Louisville to tie the game at 39 before taking a 43-39 lead. Memphis then went on a 9-2 run before back to back baskets by Smith, the latter a trey put the Cardinals back on top.