Chane Behanan shows some love to the crowd in Louisville's 80-77 win over Kentucky
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- On the University of Louisville basketball team's first possession against the University of Kentucky, the ball went straight into Chane Behanan in the post, where he made a move, turned and buried a short jumper.
It was no coincidence that U of L went to Behanan first.
Two weeks ago, needing more from his talented sophomore, U of L coach Rick Pitino installed a series of set plays designed to get Behanan the ball in scoring position. In part, it was to get scoring in the post. But mostly, it was to give Behanan confidence.
Behanan has responded. In a comeback win at Memphis, he scored 23 points, including a big second-half three-pointer. But his 20-point, seven-rebound, three-steal performance against UK was the first that harkened back to some of his NCAA heroics from last spring. He had a pair of dunks in the final minute, and five for the game.
He showed some of his improved footwork in the post, and creativity to make shots over bigger opponents. But he also was active on the defensive perimeter, using anticipation and athleticism for several big steals for breakaways, including a steal of an Archie Goodwin pass with 20 seconds left and a slam at the other end to put U of L up 80-74 and seal the win.
After the slam he paused in front of a CBS end zone camera and blew a kiss. Pitino loves Behanan's potential. He doesn't like his antics at times, and has been critical of Behanan for not working hard enough over the summer. Pitino suspended Behanan for two exhibition games and even banned him from speaking to the media for some undisclosed summer transgressions, a ban he finally lifted after U of L beat UK 80-77 on Saturday.
"Kenny let's take it off tonight," Pitino said to U of L sports information director Kenny Klein, speaking about Behanan's coach-imposed silence. "He had a great game, let him talk. Please tell him to settle down if he gets too carried away. We have a lot of games left. Why don't you go tell him now and calm him down."
Behanan does not bring great size or speed. He does, however, have great athleticism and strength, and does not shrink from big moments. Pitino said Saturday he'll let Behanan test the NBA Draft waters at season's end, but that he still has a long way to go.
"He's playing very well," Pitino said. "He's a warrior. He's a good player. We're going to let him give it a shot and see what he can do at the next level. He was fundamentally a very weak player last year. He's fundamentally a very good player this year. He uses his body well, has a good midrange game, rebounds well in traffic."
Speaking with reporters for the first time all season, Behanan said Saturday, "I missed y'all."
Behanan said his little kiss after the game-sealing dunk was for no one in particular.
"I just had a little shock wave go through me," he said. "I was happy we got this victory, not just for the team but for the city itself."
Behanan still isn't putting up the rebound numbers that Pitino would like to see, but it's his toughness and fight that steadies the Cardinals. Several times, Behanan came through with breathtaking plays. He posted up Kyle Wiltjer in the second half with a couple of stutter steps, a spin move, then a fallaway jumper that went through the net as Behanan slid on the seat of his pants.
He had one block from behind of Alex Poythress that showed his ability to pursue a play and change it.
Overall, however, Behanan said he thought his performance, and the team's, was up and down.
"We're on a seesaw really," Behanan said. "We're happy to get the win, but then again, we could have won this by double-digit points. So we have to watch film and make the corrections. We can be a lot better. We can shoot it better. When our defense is there, it can get ugly. But we have to have it consistently, and that will drive our offense. . . . Once we, you know, dot all our i's and cross all our t's, we'll be all right."
It's one thing to have Behanan talking to the media. But it's Behanan's statements on the court that bode well for the Cardinals.