Welcome to the latest edition of “What Happened Last Night?” And I’ll tell you what happened: a lot. Here, I’ll prove it…
Louisville has arrived.
First, let’s revisit the brief bit I posted about the Sugar Bowl in yesterday’s edition of WHLN:
Sugar Bowl tonight. Who ya got? Oh, who are we kidding, of course you’re picking Florida. But it’d be something if Charlie Strong’s squad sprang the upset on the school where he served as an assistant for so long, wouldn’t it?
One convincing 33-23 Louisville win later (Florida had to rally near the end to even make it that close, and was lucky it didn’t lose by more), I can safely say: yes, that was something. Strong, the subject of so many coaching search rumors in recent weeks, the man so many thought would go to Tennessee, instead didn’t go anywhere – and boy, was he vindicated for that last night. The Cardinals returned an interception for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (20-for-32, 266 yards, two touchdowns) was his usual outstanding self, even against the mighty Florida defense most expected to give him fits.
As for the Gators? Well, before two late touchdowns that threatened to make things interesting, there was, uh… not quite as much to like from their performance. They turned the ball over three times to Louisville’s one. They committed nine penalties to the Cardinals’ two. They were 3-for-10 on third down compared with Louisville’s 9-for-14, and were outgained overall 336-286. When the other team’s better than you in all those areas, it’s a good bet they’ll be better on the scoreboard as well – and if not for some genuinely clutch defensive play (i.e. at one point holding Louisville scoreless despite having a first and goal on the Florida 4), they’d have been blown out of the building.
But last night was about Louisville’s accomplishment, not Florida’s lack thereof. I said they’d “arrived” in the header for this section – maybe that’s not giving them enough credit for past achievements (i.e. winning an Orange Bowl after the 2006 season, thrashing Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl following the 1990 season under Howard Schnellenberger). But dominating an 11-1 Florida team heavily favored to beat you? It’s Louisville’s biggest win yet. Can you blame Strong for wanting to stick around and be a part of more wins like it?
The Nets kicked the Thunder around, somehow.
Last we saw the Thunder, they were racking up their latest win, 114-96 over the Suns, to move to 24-6 on the season. Last we saw the Nets, they were still flailing around in the post-Avery era, getting embarrassed 104-73 by the Spurs. So when the Nets traveled to OKC to face arguably the league’s top team last night, you could be forgiven for not thinking the result would be pretty. And you’d have been right – though you probably wouldn’t have guessed it would be a 17-point Nets win. That’s right – the Nets defeated the defending Western Conference champs on the road, 110-93, frustrating them so much that Kevin Durant got ejected from a game for the first time in his NBA career.
How’d they do it? Well, mostly thanks to the Nets’ version of a Big Three. Deron Williams had 19 points, 13 assists in five steals in a performance that ought to at least briefly silence his critics. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, meanwhile, combined for 58. The Nets shot 50 percent as a team, and while the Thunder shot nearly as well, Brooklyn forced 19 turnovers while committing just 12. And the Nets withstood a Thunder rally – OKC cut the deficit to 76-72 after the third quarter, but the Nets responded with a strong fourth. The Nets have struggled so much in recent weeks that we can’t trust them to keep playing like this, but this was as impressive a win as they’ve gotten all year. As for the Thunder – well, at least it’s over.
Around the Association…
Packed schedule last night – 12 games total. One of them featured the Heat, and the defending champs nearly made sure the Thunder wouldn’t be the only 2012 NBA finalist to lose in disappointing fashion, but wound up outlasting the Mavs 119-109 in overtime. While the Mavs lost, the game was noteworthy for being Dirk Nowitzki’s best since his return – he scored 19 in 29 minutes, including the basket that forced overtime. Dallas, which fell to 13-20, at least has to feel pretty good about that. And the Heat have something to feel good about, too: having LeBron on their team. He missed a shot that would have won it at the end of regulation, but finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists. We’d say that makes up for the lack of last-second heroics.
Elsewhere, the Clippers lost again, falling 115-94 to the Warriors. Hey, you win 17 in a row, you’re due for a clunker – especially against a team as good as the Warriors, who now sit at 22-10. The Spurs beat the Bucks 117-110 thanks to Tim Duncan’s continued non-aging (28 points, 13 rebounds, six assists). James Harden’s 31 led the Rockets past the Hornets, and Omer Asik contributed a surprising 21 points of his own. The Raptors, who routed the Trail Blazers 102-79, are suddenly a far cry from the terrible team that opened the year, while the Celtics, who fell 93-83 to the Grizzlies, kept right on struggling.
Quick hits on the rest of the games: the Bulls edged the Magic, who’ve now lost seven straight, 96-94; the Kings edged the Cavs 97-94 for just their second road win of the season; the Pacers beat the Wizards 89-81 thanks to Paul George (29 points, 14 rebounds) going off; the Jazz routed the T-Wolves 106-84 in a game in which no player on either team scored more than 17 points; and the Suns overcome a Jrue Holiday triple-double to top the Sixers 95-89. Told you the schedule was packed.
Hey, look, a college basketball upset!
No. 11 Illinois was the victim, falling to Purdue 68-61 in both teams’ Big Ten opener. While the Illini have now lost two of three, make no mistake, this was a sizable upset: they came into this game 13-1, while the Boilermakers were just 6-6. Purdue’s been a strong program in recent years, though, so maybe this game is a sign they’re turning it on.
Fiesta Bowl tonight.
Like yesterday, I’ll ask: who ya got? I’ll go with Oregon, but one counts out a Bill Snyder team at one’s own peril. And if this is Chip Kelly’s last game at Oregon… savor that offense, people.
Photos via Getty