RAW VIDEO - Rick Pitino Fairfield post-game news conference - click here
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville has been on a heater to open the season, averaging better than 33 points per victory, and the No. 3-ranked Cardinals were 25.5 point favorites over Fairfield (the school, not the hotel) on Saturday.
But an active Fairfield zone coupled with a bit of a flat effort from U of L wound up in a 71-57 Cardinal victory in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic in Mohegan Sun Arena. Five takeaways:
1. This is what happens on a bad shooting night. If you're able to neutralize Russ Smith and/or Chris Jones, or one or both have a bad shooting night, the Cardinals' offense labors to make up for the scoring. Not that they can't overcome it, as they did with defense and interior scoring against Fairfield. But the aesthetics of the offense take a hit. Smith went 3-for-9 from the field, Jones was 6-for-14. Off the bench, Terry Rozier made just 1 of 7. For a guard-oriented team, that spells trouble on offense. The Cards shot just 37.7 percent from the field (23-61) and made a season-low two three-pointers on 14 attempts. The starting guard tandem of Jones and Smith also had four turnovers each.
Jones said the worst thing both guards were doing was over-penetrating.
"We were getting in there and leaving our feet on passes," Jones said. "I need to get back to my pivot game, where if it isn't there, I get out and don't try to force something."
2. The U of L locker room had roughly the same ambiance as a funeral home. There was no talking. Players sat in front of their lockers, silent. It was testament to coach Rick Pitino's first fire-and-brimstone speech of the season. "You know how it is," Smith said. ". . . I just want to go eat and go to sleep." Pitino called it "our poorest game of the season."
He then elaborated: "We didn't play well in any phase of the game. It's disappointing because we had two great practices, playing great defense, and tonight we just didn't do the things we were capable of doing, so we were really disappointed in our performance."
"We've played four good games, and tonight we were flat in every phase. We had only nine assists. Our two point guards turned it over eight times. We didn't do the little things necessary to exploit the weaknesses of Fairfield. We were late to the glass a lot. A lot of things that were disturbing, but we got a victory and we'll go ahead and work on North Carolina."
3. Senior Luke Hancock said he's not surprised that Pitino was irate after the game, but that the coach does everything with a purpose.
"I've been around coach P's locker rooms for a while," Hancock said. "When you don't play well, you don't play well, and this is how it is. But it's a lot better than a loss. We just have to do whatever we need to do tonight to play better tomorrow so we don't lose a game. I told these guys that it's a big game for our team and our program, and we will come out and execute better tomorrow."
Pitino, in fact, refused to point to any bright spot for a while in his post-game news conference, before finally allowing that his team might've been peeking ahead to the next game, a 1 p.m. matchup with North Carolina on ESPN.
"I just think, from coaching professional basketball, you're just going to have bad nights," Pitino said. "You try hard but things just don't go well for you. And sometimes it's a good thing. Because when you're playing really hard and blowing people out and holding people to a low percentage, it brings you back to earth and reminds you that this is a game of fundamentals. You're turning it over six times a game and get careless fundamentally, you turn it over 14 times. So it can be a good thing that brings you back to earth and remind you that anybody can beat anybody on any given night. . . . This was a bad performance by us. . . . But we'll come back. I don't expect us to have two bad games in a row."
4. Montrezl Harrell has been looking forward to facing the home team of his youth, North Carolina, but he didn't look past Fairfield. He had 14 points and 12 rebounds, along with a pair of blocks and two steals. He went 6 of 13 from the field and made both his free throw attempts.
The Cards also got 15 points from Jones, who added four steals and four rebounds. Smith finished with 10 points and Blackshear had 11.
One bright spot was U of L's free-throw shooting, at 23 of 31, its best of the season. The Cards also held a 47-33 rebounding edge and outscored Fairfield 13-6 on second-chance points.
The Cardinal bench was outscored for the first time this season, 29-21. But U of L outscored Fairfield 40-14 in the paint.
The Cards were up 20 when Pitino sat Behanan, Harrell and Hancock for the rest of the game.
5. Looking ahead to North Carolina, Pitino said he's concerned with the Tar Heels' front line, and that he expects the game to be tight.
"You're going to see close (against North Carolina), that's if we don't get blown out," Pitino said. "If we bring this game tomorrow, it won't even be a game. Their size is going to give us a little trouble. They do a lot of good things defensively. They offensive rebound very well. They lost to Belmont and missed 19 free throws. You make your free throws and that doesn't happen. It's part of the game, though."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of the game: "They are really, really good so they present challenges for you in every area. They play extremely hard, they defend like crazy, they can score. They really come at you. It's a big-time team. Rick Pitino is one of our great coaches in our game, high school, college, every level. And he's got great players that do what he asks them to do. It's a recipe for success that he's played for a long time. They're a really, really good team, and they're fun to watch, but I don't like to watch them when we're playing against them. But they're really a fun team to watch and had a great run last year winning a national championship in an emotional time for their whole team. Just a great coach and a good bunch of players."