LOUISVILLE, Ky. — “We want it all. We want all the smoke.”
Heading into Tuesday’s matchup against Louisville, sophomore guard David DeJulius and the Michigan men’s basketball team were flying high, having dismantled two top-10 teams en route to a championship at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
The No. 1 Cardinals’ response?
Ask and you shall receive.
Using a suffocating defensive effort, Louisville (8-0) completely neutralized the No. 4 Wolverines (7-1) and capped off a 58-43 home win.
The Cardinals shut down an offense that had been averaging 82.4 points per game and shooting comfortably above 40 percent from 3-point range. The guards’ typically prolific outside shooting was nowhere to be found and senior guard Zavier Simpson had difficulties running the offense, totalling an uncharacteristic three assists in the effort — half as many as his next fewest in a game this season.
Prior to the game, during the Wolverines’ press conference, DeJulius — certainly huffing the fumes of success — declaratively requested that Louisville bring the smoke during the matchup Tuesday.
For those who aren’t classified as a millennial or Gen Z’er, “the smoke” is a term that refers to a verbal or physical conflict with the phrase “bringing the smoke” referencing an individual’s will to give an opponent his or her full effort and attention.
Flowery description aside, DeJulius wanted the Cardinals to give Michigan their best shot. And Louisville heard him loud and clear.
Confirming the Louisville locker room was aware of Dejulius’ comments, forward Jordan Nwora — the star of the game — vociferously responded to the Wolverines’ request prior to the matchup.
“We had heard they wanted some smoke yesterday, so they got some smoke and they got smoked,” Nwora said.
Smirking next to him was guard Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble, who grinned and added a drawn-out “Yessssssir.”
In the sporting world, it’s a tale as old as time. Certain players build up their confidence prior to a showdown and perhaps let their lips fly a little too much providing motivation to their opponents.
As if the Cardinals needed further motivation than downing the fourth-ranked team in the nation on their home court, Louisville — amid concerns over the strength of its schedule — utterly derailed Michigan’s offense. Limiting the Wolverines to just 43 points on 25.9 percent shooting, the Cardinals unequivocally brought all the smoke — and Michigan was desperately searching for a way to clear it.
It’s possible DeJulius may have made the comment in jest. But Louisville did not take it as such and instead took the opportunity to present its team identity as one that doesn’t quip, letting its play do the talking.
“The players were saying they were ready to face us and whatever we had to bring, they were gonna get past that and get the win,” Kimble said. “They were talking into existence a win, and we’re not about that here. We’re about getting on the floor and playing, and we showed that in those 40 minutes.”
Granted, it may be easier to do so in front of a 22,000-strong home crowd against a team that is coming off three games in three days in a different country, but Michigan started talking and Louisville rose to the occasion. And that confidence showed in its play.
Late in the game, Nwora beat his defender on the first step and drove to the hoop, then securing both the bucket and foul. After the shot fell through the net, Nwora strutted over to his bench amid the roars of the Cardinal faithful as he mouthed, “More! More!” to the crowd. Nwora’s bucket put Louisville up 13 and cemented the seemingly insurmountable lead.
Now, the Wolverines are going to head to the film room and reflect with discontent at the Cardinals’ elite defensive outing — and see its offense reduced to ashes.