ORLANDO, Fla. (WDRB) -- Ten thoughts on the University of Louisville's 73-66 loss on Saturday at Kentucky.
1. TOO MANY THREES. I'm not sure what the solution for this is, but I just have to make a simplistic statement -- if you're going to take a bunch of threes, you'd better make a decent percentage of them. Luke Hancock has proven in his college career that he can make threes. He drills them in practice all the time. But if he's going to miss eight open ones, it's not going to work. For the game, half of U of L's 58 shots came from three-point range. It went 6-for-26 from three-point range (23 percent) while shooting 53 percent (17 of 32) from two -- even against a larger, shot-blocking team. If it could shoot better than 50 percent from two, then that's where the majority of its shots needed to come from.
2. NO INTERIOR OFFENSE. The Cardinals were outscored 42-24 in the paint, and their four and five men Montrezl Harrell, Mangok Mathiang, Chane Behanan and Stephan Van Treese were outscored 17-11 by Julius Randle all by himself. Randle, in fact, was 7-8 from the field. Harrell is capable of shooting that kind of percentage, but got only two shots (making both). Mathiang was 2-of-2 from the field. They need to be involved more in the offense, and Rick Pitino can grouse about their play all he wants, but his guards aren't exactly getting them involved. Ken Pomeroy assigns an offensive efficiency rating to every player in every game. Harrell's rating of 204 was the highest on either team in Saturday's game. I'll repeat. He took two shots. Harrell has to become more of a focal point, whether it's through set plays or some other tweak in the offensive system.
3. STRANGE STAT PART I. Remember that pressure defense that was supposed to turn Kentucky over in bunches? U of L did finish with six steals to UK's three, but turned it over 13 times to only 11 for UK. Points off turnovers: Tied 14-14. It illustrates the difficulty of mounting great pressure defense, especially ball-pressure, given the new hand-check emphasis by referees. The game is what it is, and the new rules are an improvement. Louisville has been able to generate large numbers of turnovers against weaker competition, but in two games against ranked teams they have not been a factor. File that away for future study.
In general, Pitino was displeased with a number of defensive breakdowns. Guards are not rotating down after big men come up to help out defensively. Pitino said the word "technical" about a half-dozen times in his brief postgame remarks.
"I think that we did some decent things, but we're making way too many technical defensive mistakes," Pitino said. "We're down four, we've got a shot at it, and we lose a man off a curl, which is a critical mistake. ... That's just not good defense."
4. STRANGE STAT PART 2. Louisville outrebounded Kentucky in the second half 22-19. When you outrebound Kentucky and Randle plays only four second-half minutes because of cramps, you should win the game. Why didn't the Cards? Because they went 9-of-28 from the field, 2-of-12 from three-point range, and only 10-of-17 from the free-throw line in the half, and lost the half 32-30. You can't weather shooting that bad against a good team -- and give Kentucky's half-court defense credit. It made U of L work on the offensive end even when it was scoring.
5. STRANGE STATE PART 3. Louisville blocked five shots. Kentucky blocked four. I wouldn't want to be in the room when Pitino reviews this tape with his team. Okay that's a lie. I would. There were a lot of stats in this game that should've meant the Cardinals had an opportunity to win. That they didn't is a red flag.
6. BLACKSHEAR AND FOULS. Wayne Blackshear had to come up big in this game. Instead he went to the bench early with foul trouble. How important is he to U of L offensively right now? This is not a perfect stat by any stretch, but look at the plus-minus chart. Blackshear played 12 minutes and the Cardinals were plus-11 on Kentucky in those minutes. In Luke Hancock's 28 minutes the Cards were minus-18. The three spot in general has been a problem for the Cards in their two losses. At some point, you wonder if freshman Terry Rozier doesn't come out in a three-guard lineup. He rebounds on a par with the small forwards already.
"I knew we were going to have some five-spot problems," Pitino said after the game. "I didn't know we were going to have so many three-four defensive problems. . . . Luke's going to have to turn the corner for us. I you've got no Gorgui (Dieng), no Peyton (Siva) and no Luke, those were key players (in the NCAA championship run)."
7. BEHANAN'S LINE. Chane Behanan has been playing well for the Cardinals over the past several games, and hasn't always been rewarded for it in the offense. Behanan has been running the court, working hard to get open, and rarely gets a look. That's not excusing his scoreless stat line Saturday, for which Kentucky's length and athleticism inside gets a great deal of credit. Behanan missed his one hanging shot in the lane Saturday, but didn't get the ball in good scoring position more than once or twice. The team was minus-9 in the 20 minutes he was on the court, and he finished without a point -- not a good day for a guy who was the dominant frontcourt player in two Final Four games last spring.
"Chane's just got to catch the ball better, not drop the ball," Pitino said. "But Chane will get on the boards."
8. RUSS AND THE DUNK. Russ Smith was the No. 1 play on Sportscenter for dunking over Julius Randle. It'll make a nice poster, but it wasn't one of Smith's better games. He went 0-for-5 from three-point range and made just five of 10 free throws. As a senior captain, he has to be better from the line on the road. He and Chris Jones played hard. But Jones didn't do a great job of facilitating after a hot shooting start, and he and Smith both have defensive strides to make.
"I don't think Russ played a particularly good game from mental standpoint," Pitino said. "He took too many ill-advised shots, and that hurts your defense. ... But we're not getting outplayed in the backcourt. ... We've got to get our fours and fives rebounding better and being more of a defensive factor."
9. NORTH CAROLINA REDUX. A quick housekeeping note. For those who gave me grief for comparing the UK and U of L games against North Carolina to handicap this meeting -- no need to apologize. Being right is reward enough. This game was in some ways a carbon copy of the Cards' loss to the Tar Heels. And Pitino's job is to figure out a way to get Harrell and Behanan more involved, while continuing to bring Mathiang along. Kentucky was a bad matchup for the Cardinals. There are going to be more. The goal is to figure out how to win despite them.
10. OFFICIALS. I only include this because Pitino wasn't happy with officiating. I don't think it was any more a factor in this game than it is in any game at Rupp Arena, or the KFC Yum! Center. How often do you hear opposing coaches happy with the whistle they got at Rupp? Never. Ask the guys from Cleveland State how they liked it. Nor are opponents happy over the whistle they get at Louisville. The good news for Louisville is that if it does play the Wildcats again, the game won't be in Rupp. The bad news is that the Wildcats aren't going to get any shorter in the interim. And the Cardinals need to figure out a way to take their own show on the road.