LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- By the time you read this, the University of Louisville will be in flight on its way to Miami for an extended period of practice, and a little bit of bonding time before Christmas, with a game at Florida International thrown in.
The Cards were scheduled to leave at 10 a.m. Wednesday and are booked to see the Miami Heat play Wednesday night. But on Tuesday night, they dismantled Missouri State 90-60 in a performance that was noteworthy for a few reasons. Six thoughts on the victory:
1). SCOUTING SUCCESS. It was, more than anything, a victory for coach Rick Pitino's ability to prepare a team. For the first time all season, the Cardinals appeared to play with purpose on both ends, absolutely forbidding an opponent to do what it wanted to do offensively -- and that was a result of embracing the scouting report and putting the game plan into action.
Missouri State came into the game shooting 37 percent from three-point range and making seven threes per game. In the first half, the made only one, and were able to attempt only five.
"It was fun being able to know what they were going to do and take them out of it," Louisville freshman Terry Rozier said. "This was the first game we really put together the scouting and the execution."
Senior Luke Hancock agreed.
"We're going to have to be that kind of team," Hancock said. "We don't have great size. We've got to play smart defense, it has to be part of who we are."
2). REBOUNDING RULES. The Cards have struggled on the glass all season, but for one game at least, they were dominant underneath. They grabbed 20 of the game's first 25 rebounds, led by Rozier, who finished with eight, and by Montrezl Harrell, who probably had his best all-around game.
The Cards missed fifteen shots in the first half -- but grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.
"Offensive rebounding was spectacular," Pitino said. "When you get 20 offensive rebounds and almost shoot 52 percent, you are gaining so many possessions."
It was, according to Missouri State coach Paul Lusk, the game's key statistic.
"They just dominated us on the glass," Lusk said. "They are very talented and it's not always who you play, but when you play them. I didn't think they were exceptionally sharp against Western Kentucky and I really thought they would be ready to go. They've got a lot of talent, but they also play so darn hard, and we just simply couldn't keep them off the glass and that was the tell-tale of the game. We were able to not turn it over that much, but they just had so many second chance opportunities. . . . I knew the glass would be a problem for us and it turned out to be a major problem for us."
3). NO STEALS, NO PROBLEM. Because of that rebounding, U of L didn't need to generate the kind of turnovers it usually does. The Cards forced just 15 turnovers and scored only 13 of their 90 points off turnovers.
"You're not going to come out and get a huge number of steals every game," said U of L senior Russ Smith, who grabbed two steals to move within one steal of DeJuan Wheat at No. 7 on the school's all-time list. "They have good guards and handled the ball well, so we needed to play better half-court defense. I wasn't great on defense tonight, but as a team, we were very good at times." 4). WHY THE DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT? Pitino has been harping on his team's subpar defense -- even against subpar opponents -- for much of the season. What changed Tuesday night?
"This was the best week of practice we have had," Pitino said. "I thought our guys had great respect for Missouri State. They watched a lot of film on them and knew how good they were offensively. We thought we could score against them, but we knew we had to stop the three-point shot because they have put on some great performances from the three-point line.
"I keep telling our guys that we are five men on a string with the new rules," Pitino said. "Tonight, if somebody gets beat, somebody steps up and switches and somebody rotates to the inside and keeps all five parts moving together. It is the first time we have done that this year. The desire and the hustle have been there, but new guys playing together haven't been there. Tonight, it was a brilliant effort defensively." 5). FLEEING TO FLORIDA. The Cards are heading to Florida three days before actually playing Florida International for a purpose. Pitino said he did it to get them away as a group, and to get them away from constant questions about Kentucky.
"That's exactly why I did it. The people at the Fontainebleau (Miami Beach hotel) are not going to be worried about Kentucky. Now I've just got to do a good job of keeping the players in their rooms. But that's exactly why we did it, to get out of town. I thought they (the KFC Yum! Center crowd) would start chanting 'Beat FIU.' I can't believe they didn't do that."
Pitino acknowledged that having the game before the Kentucky game, and with Christmas around the corner (he's giving the players a couple of days off for the holiday) could create a problem, but doesn't think it will for his team.
"FIU is a trap game and you will hear that from several people," Pitino said. "This is probably going to be their first sellout in the history of their school. . . . I know they won't be looking ahead to Kentucky because they are pretty hungry and pretty humble. They have a good sense on what a road game is about. When you look at a North Carolina going into a UAB, anybody can be beat on a given night. You just have to be ready to play. We won't take many fans down there, and we didn't have many on the road before so it shouldn't bother us."
6). HUMBLE PIE. Pitino read his team an ESPN.com piece by Jason Whitlock about Robert Griffin III and the swagger of the modern athlete the day before the Missouri State game, and said that its a lesson that he and his team are continually learning.
"Even at 61 I'm in constant search of that word (humility) on a daily basis," Pitino said. "I told you the other day, Jason Whitlock wrote a great article, and there's no question in my mind that a lack of humility is almost a disease today. . . . It was a great article. I'm not in any way speaking about RG, because I don't even know him. But I read the whole article to my team, I thought it was so appropriate."