A rivalry is reborn.
It's nice to reflect on the glorious history Memphis and Louisville share on the hardwood. Countless showdowns in various arenas over multiple generations. But the fact is, the Cardinals took strides over the last five years the Tigers weren't able to follow, most significantly winning a national championship last April. Louisville had taken the last four games in the long series, the Tigers' last win coming on February 9, 2005.
That's over. Tonight at the clumsily named KFC Yum! Center, Memphis outscored the reigning champs 14-3 over the game's final 3:40 to earn Josh Pastner his biggest win in five years as a head coach. (Yes, beating the Cardinals tonight trumps the upset of Oklahoma State last month.) Sparked by a seismic dunk from Geron Johnson (followed by a free throw that tied the game after Johnson was fouled), the 24th-ranked Tigers landed the basketball equivalent of body blows to hold on for the upset over the 12th-ranked Cardinals.
After Shaq Goodwin gave Memphis a 66-65 lead with a pair of free throws, Montrezl Harrell scored on a lob for what turned out to be Louisville's final points of the game. Johnson hit a pair of free throws to regain the lead for Memphis, then the Cardinals preseason All-America, Russ Smith, was errant on a baseline drive with a minute to play.
Joe Jackson followed with a drive into the lane and Harrell was called for goaltending on a floater Jackson sent toward the rim (a shot that appeared astray on replays). With the Cardinals down 70-67, Luke Hancock — the Most Outstanding Player of last season's Final Four — took a three-pointer from the left wing that bounced high over the backboard. When Jackson hit the second of two free throws with 18.4 seconds left, the Tigers all but sealed the win. Wayne Blackshear missed a three-point attempt and Goodwin broke free for a dunk to complete the game's scoring.
The win erases, to some degree, the ugly memories from just last Saturday when Cincinnati came to FedExForum and beat the favored Tigers by 16 points. The U of M played its most well-rounded game of the season, with five players scoring at least 10 points: Jackson (15), Goodwin (15), Johnson (13), Chris Crawford (12), and Austin Nichols (10). Johnson led the Tigers with 11 rebounds, while Goodwin added eight and Nichols seven.
Hancock led Louisville with 20 points while Smith scored 19.
Memphis shot 51 percent for the game and held the Cardinals to 39 percent. The win improves the Tigers' record to 11-3, while the defending champs fall to 13-3.
The Tigers continue their January gauntlet through the American Athletic Conference with a game at Temple Saturday afternoon. They return home next Thursday (January 16th) against Connecticut. Louisville will be at FedExForum (seeking revenge) on March 1st.
Life is good in Memphis during basketball season. It's just better when the Tigers beat Louisville.