Confidence can be a fickle thing.
At times, it can be as fleeting and elusive as a feather in the wind. In other instances, such internal self-assurance can linger, akin to a cold, for stretches without an end in sight.
Having been MIA for the better part of the past two weeks, the confidence and overall mojo for the Louisville Cardinals returned in full force on Sunday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center—much to the chagrin of the visiting Marquette Golden Eagles.
Behind a balanced offensive attack and stymied defense, the 12th-ranked Cardinals (18-4, 6-3), who had dropped three of their past four outings, dismantled MU, 70-51, to notch its second consecutive triumph.
Statistically, Louisville—with their head coach, Rick Pitino, its players and fans decked out in all-white attire—dominated Marquette.
Paced by junior guard Russ Smith’s 18 points, the Cardinals, the unanimous selection in the preseason coaches’ poll to claim the Big East crown, shot 51.9 percent from the field (compared to MU’s 35.9 percent); won the rebounding battle, 34-22; held a 19-12 edge in bench scoring; and trumped the Golden Eagles in assists, 17-6, among others.
Add it all up and the Cardinals handed No. 25 Marquette (15-5, 6-2), who entered the weekend having won eight of nine, its second-most lopsided defeat of the 2012-13 campaign.
As for the blue and gold, who were led by Vander Blue’s 17 points, the loss on Sunday marked only the third setback endured since Dec. 19, but continued a near season-long trend of misery away from the friendly confines of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
While presently immersed within a streak 21 consecutive triumphs atop the Al McGuire Court, the Golden Eagles, who are 2-1 all time on Super Bowl Sundays, have, save for an overtime win at Pittsburgh on Jan. 12, now lost four of the five road tests that they have been presented with this season.
During the game’s early moments, however, it appeared as if the tide of Marquette’s nomadic fortunes may be turning.
Behind seven combined points from Blue and Trent Locket, in addition to harassing Louisville into three miscues and misfiring on their first seven field goal attempts, Marquette held a 9-1 edge at the 14:24 mark.
Although the Cardinals, who improved to 10-1 at home this season, began to find their rhythm offensively, the Golden Eagles, who are 26-41 all time against the conference foe from the Bluegrass State, still held a 16-10 lead with 11:44 to play in the opening frame.
From there, the Cardinals promptly took the game over—and never looked back.
Kick started by a pair of free throws by Smith, the league’s fourth-leading scorer entering Sunday, the Cardinals embarked on a 26-6 run to stake 14-point advantage with 1:37 on the clock en route to holding a 38-24 lead at intermission.
Upon the curtain being raised on the game’s second frame, Louisville continued to keep its foot firmly on the accelerator.
On the heels of a trio of three-point baskets (including two straight via Luke Hancock), the Cardinals led 53-30 with 13:29 remaining and put MU in a hole which, ultimately, they would be unable to climb out of.
Unable to pull to within 12 points over the final 20 minutes, the Golden Eagles migrate back to Milwaukee, despite the loss, tied with Syracuse atop the Big East standings.
Marquette, who received a season-high 16 points from Lockett, will have a chance to get back on the winning track Wednesday when they travel to Tampa Bay, Fla. to take on the South Florida Bulls at 6:00 p.m. CST.