LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville finished the get-well section of its American Athletic Conference schedule on Tuesday, pounding South Florida 80-54. It was their fifth straight victory. Average margin: 26 points.
Now the Cards begin a stretch with four out of five games against teams ranked in the top 30 nationally, and three of those on the road. A few thoughts on their final tuneup before Saturday's showdown at Cincinnati.
1. POSSESSION IS NINE-TENTHS OF BASKETBALL. Well, maybe not that much. But when U of L coach Rick Pitino talks about generating more possessions, he's talking about quality possessions — that is, attempts to score. Shots and possessions aren't synonymous, but it's close. The win over USF was a good example. The Cardinals forced 20 Bulls turnovers and allowed only six offensive rebounds. So while the teams had the same number of possessions, U of L took 71 shots to USF's 45. And Pitino knows, whether your team is shooting well or not, if you get up 71 attempts, you have a pretty good chance at winning. As it turned out, the Cards were not hitting from the outside. They made only 3 of 18 three-pointers in the game. But they shot 58.5 percent from two-point range.
2. CARDS GET DRESS REHEARSAL FOR DISASTER. In the first minute of the second half Montrezl Harrell absent-mindedly ran into an opponent to pick up a careless third foul, then was whistled for a technical, his fourth foul, when the two players exchanged words. Harrell played only seven minutes of the second half. (And Wayne Blackshear, who picked up his fourth foul a minute later, played only nine.) Still, the Cardinals were able to extend their lead not only in points, but in rebounds, during the absence of those two. USF being not very good had a lot to do with that. But even against lesser opponents, U of L has struggled in those areas without Harrell on the floor this season. This time, the Cards weathered that situation because Stephan Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang combined for 11 points and 14 rebounds, and because Terry Rozier steadied the team defensively during a second half in which he scored eight points and had two steals in 12 minutes. More importantly, he was the best guard on the floor at setting up defensive traps. The Cards also got continued steady play from Luke Hancock, who finished with 16 points, a highlight-reel dunk, and scored in double-figures for the 13th straight game. "I think it helped us to go through that period," U of L senior Luke Hancock said. "You don't want to have to play that way, but we needed to get Mangok some time out there, and he did some good things for us, and everybody pitched in pretty well and rebounded."
3. ROZIER (QUIETLY) KEEPS IMPROVING. You may not have noticed, but Rozier has scored 29 points in the past two games. While Chris Jones and Russ Smith are playing better as a tandem, Rozier continues to assert himself off the bench, and had the game's biggest highlight on a breakaway 2-on-1 with Russ Smith, when he faked a behind the back pass before making an open layup. He was 5 of 11 from the field and had five rebounds. Pitino was ecstatic with his play. "You know, I think this is his 15th turnover in 26 games," Pitino said. "Tyler Ennis (at Syracuse) is awesome, plays all 40 minutes, and he is a great, great basketball player; one of the premier players in the country. . . . But I put Terry up here too. So that is the highest compliment that I can give him. He doesn't play 40 minutes a game, he is a role player, sometimes a starter, but I think he has awesome talent as well, and continues to get better and better. We have Russ Smith and Chris Jones upperclassmen, that's who he is playing behind, but I think (Ennis) is having as good a year as any guard in the country, and I think Terry is in his class."
4. HARRELL BREAKS SINGLE-SEASON DUNK RECORD. With four dunks against USF, Harrell broke the school's single-season record for dunks, previously shared by Pervis Ellison and Chane Behanan. Harrell now has 63 on the season, and when asked postgame how many he thinks he could get by season's end, he said his total was 100. He said he thought a couple of dunks a game might get him there. Maybe he's not a math major. A Vine post from WDRB's John Lewis shows Chris Jones' humorous reaction. Still Harrell ranks moved into sole possession of sixth place on the Cardinals career dunks leaderboard with 107. He needs 10 more dunks to equal Cornelius Holden (1988-92) for No. 5 on the career charts. U of L is one of the few schools in the nation that keeps dunks as a statistic. It's Harrell's scoring that doesn't come from point-blank range, however, that may be more reason for optimism for U of L fans. Since making a concerted effort to establish Harrell in the paint beginning with the Connecticut game, Harrell has averaged 14.9 points per game and shot 58.7 percent from the field.
5. ANOTHER BLOWOUT. Tuesday's win was U of L's 15th by 25 points or more this season. There may not be many more, given that the schedule toughens up from here. The Cards lost to Cincinnati at home on Jan. 30, and Pitino said winning in Cincinnati on Saturday will be difficult, but he likes the way his team is playing, and feels it has improved over the past two weeks. "Well Cincinnati hurt us in the beginning because they switched, and we didn't take advantage of when they did switch of certain situations and we got off to a slow start (in January)," Pitino said. "Then we came out and played very well. But we know what's coming. We have already been to two extremely hostile places with Kentucky and Connecticut and we are going to go into three hostile places with Cincinnati, SMU, and Memphis. It will be very good for us to get us tournament ready. We are starting to play the right type of basketball right now with a high number of assist and low number of turnovers, and by in large, pretty good defense. . . . Our matchups in the zone need to get a little better, but I think we are playing really good basketball right now. We are going to continue to get better, I think February is the time to get better and March is the time to win."