LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Rick Pitino took his team to Miami, but says it wasn't a pleasure trip. He described the two days the Cardinals spent in Florida before facing Florida International Saturday as "lockdown." After they beat the Golden Panthers 85-56, he says he'll loosen the reins a little, but the Cards still have business to take care of.
After taking his team to Miami to get away from the "beat UK" talk, Pitino will spend the next 48 hours trying to devise a way for the Cardinals to do just that before they scatter for the Christmas break.
But before they do, ten thoughts on what transpired in U of L's first true road game of the season.
1. THE COURT WAS COOL. First things first. Florida International has a sideline painted to resemble the ocean with waves breaking onto a beach. The other side is painted with palm trees.
What else would you expect from a school in Miami? The only problem was that at one point I thought I saw Jody Demling dragging a chaise lounge out onto the court, and someone said Vinny Tatum was trying to park his boat by the scorer's table.
"I thought our defense was good at the beach," Pitino said after the game. "But it was bad at the palm trees."
2. A GOOD WIN. NOT AN IMPRESSIVE WIN. For the last time this season, the Cards will face a team ranked worse than No. 210 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings.
U of L took control of the game to start the second half, after being beaten off the dribble quite a bit in the first half.
"We didn't play great basketball tonight but we played good offense," Pitino said. "We were a little inept at times on defense but on offense we did a good job sharing the basketball and doing the right things."
3. REBOUNDING A RED FLAG. Getting ready to face a University of Kentucky team that is outrebounding opponents by nearly 13 per game, U of L was outrebounded 38-34 and gave up 17 offensive rebounds. The Cards outscored FIU only 26-24 in the paint. Freshman Terry Rozier got the start again at guard, but despite scoring eight points and dishing out three assists, he didn't grab a rebound.
"He didn't rebound the ball," Pitino said. "The good thing is, he doesn't turn it over."
The Cards held a rebounding edge late, but gave up many of the offensive rebounds when FIU made a bit of a run down the stretch.
4. THREE-POINT TAKEDOWN. The Cardinals made 13 of 24 three-point shots, including eight of 13 in the second half. Half of U of L's field goals for the game came from behind the arc, and 8 of their 14 second-half field goals were triples. Russ Smith was hot from the outside, making 4 of 7, while Wayne Blackshear hit 3 of 7 and seven different Cardinals made a three.
In general, Pitino was pleased with the offense. The Cards dished out 20 assists -- on 26 made field goals.
"Offensively we did a lot of really good things," Pitino told Paul Rogers on his Nelligan Sports postgame radio show. "We passed well, we penetrated well, we're very good in transition, unselfish."
The Cards shot 50 percent in the second half and 48.1 percent from the field in the game, but actually shot a better percentage from three-point range (13-24, 54.2 percent) than two (13-30, 43.3).
5. DEFENSIVE DOLDRUMS. Pitino was unhappy with the defense throughout. FIU repeatedly beat the Cards off the dribble.
"We're just not getting it done at the defensive end," Pitino told Rogers. ". . . We didn't trap at all (in the first half), and this is the type of team you should trap, because they don't have a lot of shooters. We're still struggling with our zone. Look, sometimes you can nitpick. We got the W, it was a road victory, and we move forward. We focused in on this game. We played good, not great. We played well offensively. We got away from all the UK talk and we focused in on FIU."
6. CAPTAINS' QUARTERS. Russ Smith and Luke Hancock are team captains, but Pitino was displeased with both. Despite 18 points from Smith and seven off the bench from Hancock, Pitino thought the defense of both was lacking.
"I thought Russ played a poor game, I really did," Pitino said. "I think he was forcing things. I didn't think he played defense. I thought Russ had his poorest game of the season."
As for Hancock, Pitino was frustrated that FIU's Tymell Murphy was able to drive past him, and to get to his left hand, both things Pitino thought were outlined in the scouting report.
"(Murphy) is a good player and you've got to give him credit," Pitino told Rogers. "He's a great driver. You know it and I know it. Luke Hancock apparently did not know it, especially giving him his left hand. You and I know it. The scouting report said that. You were at practice. Luke was somewhere in a Miami cafe on South Beach."
7. MATHIANG MOST IMPROVED. Freshman Mangok Mathiang finished with six points, seven rebounds and two blocks, though he altered a number of other shots, in 23 minutes of play.
Pitino said he's pleased with his progress.
"The guy who has really improving, quite noticeably, is Mangok," Pitino said on his radio show. "I thought he changed a lot of shots. He bothered people and stood down and he's catching the ball and passing the basketball, things he wasn't doing two weeks ago."
Pitino also singled out Chane Behanan, who he said, "has been playing good basketball." Behanan had nine points, five rebounds and four assists. Chris Jones, off the bench, had five points, six assists and five steals.
8. BUCKLES VS. THE CARDINALS. Rakeem Buckles wanted an impressive showing against his old team. His old coach, Richard Pitino, was even back in the arena watching him, with the Pitino family gathering in Miami for Christmas.
But at times he looked to be pressing, and got into second half foul trouble. Buckles finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds but made only four of 17 shots and had four turnovers. Still, Pitino spoke of him fondly.
"I love Rak," Pitino said. "He's a Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng-type young man. Just an incredible young man. I absolutely love him, just one of my all-time favorite guys.
9. BLACKSHEAR'S KNEE. Forward Wayne Blackshear left the game with an apparent knee injury in the second half and did not return. Pitino apparently wasn't asked about his status after the game, though Blackshear did return to his seat on the bench and wasn't being treated further during the game. 10. MORE MIAMI. The Cards aren't leaving town right away. They'll have two more days of practices for Kentucky before going home for Christmas. Pitino said he likes it in Miami, where nobody cares about the UK-U of L rivalry.
"We're going to forget this game," Pitino said. "We're going to practice Sunday evening. We'll have a little time off now, but we're going to practice hard and watch a little film Sunday night. Then we're going to practice the next day, watch a lot of film, then let them go home for the holidays. So we'll get four good practices before Kentucky."
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