T-shirts Louisville wore before their exhibition opener on Tuesday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- One of the big questions facing the University of Louisville basketball team was how it would fare with new defensive rules implemented by the NCAA to curb hand-checking and physical play.
If the first exhibition of the season is any indicator -- and more often than not, it isn't -- the Cardinals are likely to cause as many problems as they encounter in the fouling department.
In a 115-67 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan at the KFC Yum! Center, the NCAA Division II Panthers, who only began practice on Oct. 15, simply couldn't guard the quicker Cardinals. Louisville wound up going to the free-throw line 56 times (making only 24), and when KWC adjusted to foul less in the second half, the Cardinals responded by making 15 of their first 17 shots from the field.
The Cardinals played the game's final 10 minutes with Chris Jones, Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell on the bench -- along with Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware, both of whom dressed but did not play. The Cards also were without Chane Behanan, out on an indefinite suspension.
But after three public intrasquad scrimmages, the Cardinals, who took the court in adidas warmup shirts that read, "Rise to Repeat," showed that they have some offensive weapons.
"Well I think you saw the way they're going to call it," U of L coach Rick Pitino said after the game. "And the good thing is it was going to happen and our starters did a very good job taking advantage of the new way they're going to referee, as well as then not fouling. . . . Obviously we didn't make our free throws very well, but that will come."
How quick was the whistle? Louisville was shooting the bonus just 2:41 into the game, and there were 11 total fouls in the first three minutes. The Cards were shooting the bonus, but not making them. Harrell, who led the Cards with 20 points and slammed home eight dunks, made just 2 of 11 free-throws -- though he was 9 of 10 from the field. Jones, the junior college transfer point guard who scored U of L's first 11 points of the second half, made just 2 of 7.
But when they weren't getting to the line, the Cards were making good things happen. They shot 65.7 percent in the second half and 57.6 percent for the game.
Russ Smith scored 17 points rather quietly, while Terry Rozier came off the bench to spark the Cards in both halves, finishing with 18 points, a team-best nine rebounds and four assists without a turnover. Freshman Anton Gill had 13 points off the bench.
Pitino said his team should be well equipped to handle the new rules, but still has some rather significant concerns about his own team.
"That's the exact way it happened in the NBA, then everybody adjusts and you have freedom of movement," he said. ". . . We really drilled it home in the last three weeks how the game was going to be called. It really helped us offensively; we just have to be smart enough defensively.
"I know it's frustrating for me, you, fans. But we're really going to have a better game once everybody adjusts. . . . I think it'll take a month. I think you're going to see more zone. And we've worked hard on our zone offense because of it."
Where Pitino wants his team to improve is in rebounding, particularly from the center position. Mangok Mathiang earned most of the playing time, as Pitino looks to rush him into form. He had eight points, 7 rebounds and two steals. Van Treese had four points but only two rebounds in 17 minutes.
"We've got to get him playing with greater confidence," Pitino said. "He doesn't have to be a three-point shooter, but he's capable of getting 10 or 12 rebounds. We need him and Mangok to be big-time rebounders. If they become big-time rebounders, we'll become a big-time team."
Rozier had little trouble rebounding. His presence seemed to lead to runs in both halves, and his overall game, from passing to handling the ball to scoring and rebounding showed why Pitino says he's the most "professional" of his players.
"I really like his game," Pitino said. "He doesn't fatigue, doesn't turn it over, really goes to the basket with the confidence of a senior."
"We just view the (officiating) as a positive," Rozier said. "We've got guys like Chris Jones, Russ Smith, whoever, a lot of guys who can do things one-on-one, and if you can't put your hands on them, it's tough."
"Overall I was very pleased, we're just going to have to work on our free throws. We're a much better free-throw shooting team than that. I'm just going to have to play David Levitch (who was 6-for-6 from the line) more if that's the case."
KWC was led by Kentucky Sweet 16 hero Ken-Jah Bosley, the freshman from Madison Central who had a game-high 21 points.
U of L continues exhibition play next Wednesday at 7 against Pikeville in the KFC Yum! Center.