BOZICH | Mathiang Eager To Become Gorgui Dieng 2.0 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Mathiang Eager To Become Gorgui Dieng 2.0

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Mangok Mathiang had 3 blocks and 7 rebounds in Louisville's 69-38 win over Southern Miss Friday night. Mangok Mathiang had 3 blocks and 7 rebounds in Louisville's 69-38 win over Southern Miss Friday night.

LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) – Several University of Louisville basketball players and managers huddled near Mangok Mathiang's locker – and they were not there to congratulate him on playing 22 minutes or setting career highs in blocked shots (3) or defensive rebounds (4.)

Wayne Blackshear waved his phone in his right hand, primed to play a nasty video of Southern Miss forward Michael Craig flushing a basketball in Mathiang's befuddled face.

When it happened, Louisville was ahead, 57-31, cruising to a 69-38 victory in the Cardinals' finest defensive performance this season. Mathiang was an essential component of the Cards' defensive statement, replacing Stephan Van Treese in the starting lineup and limiting the Golden Eagles to six points in the paint in the first 20 minutes.

But this dunk, a 6-foot-5 guy punishing a 6-10 center, was enough to make Russ Smith cover his face in a towel on the Cards' bench. Chris Jones, standing next to Mathiang, looked up at the roof of the KFC Yum! Center as if Jimmy Buffett was already making his entrance.

Did Smith see Mathiang get treated as if he was 4 feet 10?

"Everybody saw it," Smith said.  "I don't have to talk about."

Everybody had a good time with it because Mathiang – and his teammates defended much better than they defended Sunday when North Carolina hung 93 points – and the season's first defeat – on Louisville.

Pitino reacted by moving Mathiang and Terry Rozier into the starting lineup for Van Treese and Chris Jones. Pitino also occasionally aligned the Cards in the 2-3 zone that he has often employed over the last two seasons.

Mathiang was not spectacular. This was only his seventh college game. Spectacular is several months away.

But he was solid, grabbing seven rebounds, blocking three shots and making one of his two field-goal attempts.

Overall the Cards' defense was improved. The 38 points were the fewest the Cards have allowed since the South Florida game last Jan. 12. It was barely half the Golden Eagles' season average of 74. After 27 minutes, Southern Miss had 15 points – and trailed by 32.

"We want to play how we did last season," Pitino said. "Last year we played about 70 percent man, and that is what we did tonight. It confuses people and it gets them out of rhythm. We want to pressure them out of bounds. The way we played tonight is exactly the way we played last year, and I want to continue to do that."

Look for more Mathiang. He is eager, raw and determined to talk to former Cardinal Gorgui Dieng every day to discuss the moves he must make to become this team's Gorgui Dieng.

Mathiang said that before the Cardinals had left Connecticut last week, his cell phone shook with a call from Dieng, a rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was not calling with corrections. He was calling with encouragement.

"Gorgui called and told me to keep my head up and stay active," Mathiang said. "I love him to death. I tell him every day that when I see him I'm going to give him a big hug because I miss him.

"I have to be the Gorgui for this team. Step up every single day. Get ready to get better. Maybe have better numbers than I had today. Being all over the place. Intensity. Talking.  Rebound. Blocking shots. Erasing their mistakes. I'm getting more confident. I feel that Coach P is getting more confident in me."

The Gorgui Dieng who was taken with the 21st pick in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft by Minnesota is not the same Gorgui Dieng who averaged 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds as a 21-year-old freshman at Louisville.

Dieng needed coaching, experience, success, failures, opportunities, setbacks – all the experiences that Mathiang is going to get as the Cards' schedule becomes more difficult.

"He's long and athletic," U of L senior Luke Hancock said. "He blocks shots and rebounds well. We just have to keep him out there, keep getting him reps, keep him going in the right direction."

They even have to keep teasing him whenever a 6-5 forward plants one in Mangok Mathiang's face.

"I think I'm going to have a nightmare today," Mathiang said.

Mathiang was laughing  -- at least a little.

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