If the voters of America have any sense, they will put a 1-3 team into the top 10 in the college basketball polls this week. "This team has a better chance of being the best at the end of the year than last year's team did," Denny Crum said. He coaches the defending national champions of Louisville, who today, to borrow from a country song, took Maryland's heart and stomped that sucker flat.
Maryland is a wonderful team. The 78-67 loss to Louisville is not an indictment of Albert King, Buck Williams & Friends. They are good enought to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA championships. Today's result is, instead, certification of Louisville as the best losing-record team this side of the NBA.
"Maryland happened to walk in here when we needed a victory," said Louisville guard Jerry Eaves. "And they caught it on the chin."
"Maybe Maryland was looking down on us because we'd lost three, said Poncho Wright, a reserve guard. "Maybe they thought we didn't have it anymore. Maybe they thought we needed the ghost of Darrell Griffith."
Without Darrell Griffith, its all-America guard, Louisville lost its first three games this season. It lost to mighty De Paul, to Tulsa (35 turnovers) and to Oklahoma State (21 of 42 free throws) -- by six points, eight and one, the last on a midcourt shot at the buzzer. So the poll-voters may have believed Louisville is nothing without Griffith. A local columnist wrote that Louisville, if it kept playing this way against the powerful teams on its schedule, could start out 0-9.
"We didn't really play all that good today," Crum said. "We made 22 turnovers, we made only eight of 15 free throws, we allowed too many second-shot baskets, we let them get the ball in low too much in the first half . . ."
You can't please coaches. Coaches could find fault with Ann-Margret. Wears her hair all wrong. Can't go to her right. We shouldn't listen too hard to coaches. As it happens, though, Crum is correct this time, because had his team dominated the rebounding (it was 40-39, Louisville) and had it shot well from outside (only seven buckets from 15 feet), Louisville would have won this one by 30.
On the other hand, Louisville would have lost to Maryland if it hadn't played the quickest, runningest, jumpingest defense the Terrapins are going to see all season. Elvin Hayes has a story about Bill Russell. Elvin was a rookie when Russell walked up to him minutes before a game and said, "Ah, yes, young man, tonight I think I will block -- how many? -- yes, three of your shots. Three." All night, Elvin worried about "The Ghost," as he called Russell, worried about where he was coming from next.
That's what happened to Maryland today. Only a handful of college basketball teams have shooters better than Albert King and Greg Manning, who last season shot 22 and 64 percent, respectively. Against Louisville, King was five for 20 and Manning five for 15. As Elvin Hayes was rushed into ineffectiveness by listening for The Ghost's footsteps, so were King, Manning and all their budies hurried into humiliating defeat today.
"They kept looking over their shoulders all day," said Derek Smith, who at 6-foot-6 is Louisville's leading scorer and rebounder. "That's what hustle and aggressiveness on defense will do for you. Even when those guys had an open shot, they were worried about where we were coming from."
The statistics show that Louisville blocked four shots. The numbers don't show how mahy times Maryland hurried a shot or put a higher trajectory than normal on a shot. A guess: Of Maryland's 68 shots, 40 of them were put up a microsecond too quick, a microsecond out of synch, a microsecond that ruins years of learned muscle behavior.
Lok at this. With nine minutes to play, Louisville leads, 60-49. If Maryland is to move, now is the time.
King steals the ball from Smith under the Louisville basket and starts a fast break with a quick pass to Ernest Graham, who moves the ball on to Manning flying in for a layup.
Manning, usually cooly efficient, is working at fast-forward speed. That's because Smith somehow has sprinted the length of the court and is on Manning's heels. So Manning hurls the layup over the rim.
Buck Williams gets the rebound. Back up with it. Quickly. Too quickly. The ball clangs away. And Graham fouls somebody.
It was all for naught, as was most of Maryland's hurry-up work against the variety of pressing defenses Louisville used. With big, strong, quick athletes who could cover the entire court, Louisville dictated the pace of the game. Maryland showed none of the necessary patience -- and good shooting -- to gain control of the goings-on. Such poise and skill is especially important on the road in front of 15,072 partisan spectators.
"We played good, aggressive defense," said Rodney McCray, Louisville's 6-8 center. "But I feel like Maryland was shaken by our crowd, too. There when our press was beating them so bad, the crowd was screaming constantly."
"Maryland has a great team," Crum said. "And if they had been at home, we probably wouldn't have beaten them. But on the road, it's tough. Our crowds here at Freedom Hall traditionally haven't been that wild. But last year they really got behind these kids because they try so hard. That's why it was so loud here today, too. For Maryland, there's a big difference between here and College Park."
Still, it must be worrisom for Lefty Driesell. He has a veteran team that should not be intimidated on the road, either by the opponents or by the hostile crowds. Yet it was intimidated today on all counts. It shot only 36.8 percent. Had Buck Williams not turned in another superman day's work -- 27 points, 22 rebounds (an astonishing 15 offensively) -- Louisville would have had the 30-point victory Crum imagined.
"We didn't have anybody as good as Williams," Crum said. "But we had more good guys inside today."
Crum emphasized "today." He didn't need to. This will be a god team all season long. "I say we have a better shot this year than last because last year we had Darrell Griffith, three sophomores and a freshman starting. This year all those guys have more experience and will be better. We'll miss Darrell, of course, but at the start of the season you'd have to say this team looks better."
No arguments here, Mr. Crum.