The worst day of the year is upon us.
Chris Mack’s first season as Louisville’s head coach came to an end with a disappointing 86-76 upset loss at the hands of 10th-seeded Minnesota in the fist round of the NCAA tournament Thursday afternoon.
Minnesota, which entered the game averaging just over five made three-pointers per game, connected on 11-of-27 shots from beyond the arc. The 11 made threes were the second-most the Gophers had made all season, and marked just the fourth time in 35 games they’d made double-digit treys.
The Golden Gophers were led by freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur, who buried five triples and finished with a game-high 24 points. Minnesota didn’t get a single point from its bench, but all five starters made up for that by scoring at least 13.
Louisville was led by Christen Cunningham, who scored a team-high 22 points in his final collegiate game. He was 13-for-13 from the free-throw line. Steven Enoch (14) and Darius Perry (12) both came off the bench to score in double figures, and Jordan Nwora (10 points and 11 rebounds) notched his ninth double-double of the season.
With the loss, Louisville falls to 0-3 all-time as a No. 7 seed, and 0-4 all-time in the 7/10 game.
I’ll be honest, I really thought Louisville would win this game, and I didn’t think there was any way they’d allow Minnesota to score 86 points and win by double digits. Part of that is because some Gopher players made shots they haven’t made all year, and another part is that the Cards just didn’t play particularly well.
This season now becomes a strange one to evaluate. On one hand, it went so much better than so many were predicting last fall. On another, it went so much worse down the stretch than it looked like it was going to when February started. I think we’re all also always going to wonder would have happened had this team simply closed out Duke without issue on Feb. 12. After that collapse, U of L’s only wins came via a near collapse in the final seconds against an NIT team (Clemson), and then two wins over the worst team in the ACC.
Still, this group gave us the chance to have a fun and relaxed Selection Sunday, and the last three days to think crazy thoughts about what they might be able to accomplish in March. Those things may not provide much comfort at the moment, but they were still better than the alternative.
Playing in the very first game of the main draw of the tournament is always going to end in heaven or hell. Unfortunately, we have deal with the less desirable end of that extreme spectrum.
There are things to be excited about moving forward, but for now, this sucks.