Wayne Blackshear missed his first 11 shots before making his final three. Associated Press photo.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik has a pretty good perspective on the University of Louisville basketball team. A year ago, his team fell apart under the Cards' withering pressure and lost 80-38 at home.
This season, the Cougars scored 12 points more and held the Cardinals to 10 points fewer, but the game was tight throughout. U of L led by only two at half and trailed early in the second half before closing with a 22-3 run.
We'll start today's five takeaway with a take from Wojcik on the difference between the two games and the two U of L teams.
1. Wojcik said he noticed one big difference between this year's U of L team and the one he saw last season. "No Peyton Siva. He is a good player. We have more ball handlers, even though at times, it didn't look that way. We had 21 turnovers. A big moment in the second half was with Canyon Barry and we missed those four free throws. As a result of missing those free throws, in a way, we got a third foul on Adjehi Baru and a third foul on Joe Chealey and now I had to go to my bench. I am still developing my bench right now, but we felt comfortable, we felt big enough, we felt athletic enough. We are a pretty good defensive team but obviously with giving up 20 offensive rebounds and still they only beat us by three on the glass. There were a lot of positives for us and I am real pleased with it."
Wojcik said he thought his team handled the challenge of playing a team after it raised a championship banner well.
"I've been in this situation quite a bit," Wojcik said. "I have never had a team compete against the top five teams as well as this team did. I used to have to go into Memphis in Calipari's years; Derek Rose, Tyreke Evans, lost two championship games on their home floor, same kind of atmosphere, same kind of building, and I never really thought that we really could compete once the ball went up. Today we competed. We are going to be alright. Adjehi Baru, Willis Hall, David Wishon they were all 8-10 from the field today, so we just have a lot to build on. It is going to be a great year for us."
"I know this, that score around the country on the ticker was on a lot of phones for a long time today, so it was pretty good for us. Obviously with Kevin Ware's situation and them being defending national champions and raising the banner today, there was a lot of publicity on the game. We'll learn from it and get better."
2. Russ Smith matched a team-high with five assists, but U of L coach Rick Pitino said the senior All-American needs to quit "hunting" for assists. And he said he thought Smith did a better job of that as the game went on.
"Yeah, we have talked to him. Everybody has talked to him about it," Pitino said. "I said just don't turn the ball over, don't hunt the assist, be yourself. Early in the game Chris and Russ both had a wide open lay-up and they are looking to pass the ball. You have got to take the lay-up. He has just got to be who he is, take balanced shots, not turn it over, and don't worry about the assists."
3. Wayne Blackshear thought he was in a bad dream. He missed his first 11 shots of the 2013-14 season. And in a variety of fashions. He missed layups (five of them). He missed mid-range jumpers and had three-pointers rim out.
After he missed a breakaway layup with the defense closing, he said, "I thought, is the ball ever going to go in?"
But Blackshear also was perhaps more active defensively than at any point in his U of L career. He was rebounding. He was getting deflections. Pitino said his assistants were urging him to get Blackshear out, but he refused.
"I just had to shoot out of it," Blackshear said. "I had a little baseline shot go, and that got me going."
Blackshear finished with 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting, he also had six rebounds, two blocks and two steals and played a team-high 37 minutes.
Pitino said he wants Ware to lose 10 pounds, that coaches have been urging him to bulk up with muscle over the summer, but that perhaps he overdid it. Regardless, Blackshear says he feels like he's sitting on a big season.
"I feel good," he said. "I feel like I can play all out, that there's no excuse not to go at 100 percent all the time."
If he can, that will be a huge development for a team. Blackshear often is a forgotten component of the Cardinals, but has a chance to be a feature player.
4. Pitino used only a seven-man rotation on Saturday, and used freshman Terry Rozier less than at any time in the exhibition season as Chris Jones and Smith both played at least 30 minutes. The Cardinals are a couple of weeks away from having Ware back full-time, and more help is coming.
Luke Hancock still has not return to practice from a left Achilles' and ankle injury. Even when he returns to practice, his workout time may be limited to keep him fresh for games. Pitino said the Cardinals may just be a game or two away from getting Hancock back.
And Chane Behanan's return could be earlier than projected. Behanan returned to practice on Friday.
With the return of those two, and Kevin Ware already back practicing, the Cardinals could be at full-strength by mid-December.
5. Ware didn't play on Saturday, but he was far from inactive. Ware taped an interview for ESPN's Sunday Conversation, and an interview for Good Morning America. Later Sunday, Ware was to be featured on ABC's World News Tonight in its "America Strong" segment.
Pitino said he's a ways from returning to the court, though.
"I told Kevin he still is limping a little bit," Pitino said. "It is noticeable and when he gets over that he is going to play. He is probably only two weeks away from playing. I notice in practice he is limping a little bit. That means psychologically, he is favoring it a little. He doesn't notice it at all. I don't want to put him in this type of game. The Pikeville (exhibition) situation was just get out there and get loose. He is playing full go in practice but I am still noticing a limp and I don't want to play him till he is over that. It will be pretty soon."