CRAWFORD | Ten thoughts on the Cardinals' season-opening win ove - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Ten thoughts on the Cardinals' season-opening win over Minnesota

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AP photo. AP photo.
 LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville's 81-68 win over Minnesota was at times dominating, at times exhausting.

The teams combined for 60 fouls, and there was little offensive rhythm. Twice the Cardinals blew out to 20-point leads, only to have to fight back challenges from Minnesota.

The game was billed as Pitino vs. Pitino on the sidelines, and ESPN did its best to feature that angle. But Montrezl Harrell stole the show.

Some thoughts . . .

1. MONTREZL HARRELL IS BACK. AND BETTER. After weighing his NBA options, the junior forward decided to make himself better and come back to school. His offseason improvement was evident from the opening seconds. The first basket of the 2015 U of L season was a three by Harrell, and he never hesitated. He made more threes Friday night than he had in his entire career, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. He made 9 of 12 shots from the field, 9 of 10 from the line and collected seven rebounds, all at the defensive end. He also played 38 minutes in withering heat. He finished with a career-high 30 points.

He made 5 of 8 shots outside the lane and was 4-for-4 inside.

Pitino told Bob Valvano on his postgame radio show on the Louisville Radio Network, “It was a brilliant performance.”

He said Harrell has to pick his spots if he's going to play that many minutes, hence his lack of offensive rebounding. At one point, Harrell asked to come out of the game. Pitino called timeout to let him rest instead.

2. TERRY ROZIER WAS JUST AS IMPRESSIVE AS HARRELL.
He didn't score as many points, but Rozier went 7-for-11 from the field, 4 of 4 from the free-throw line, had six rebounds, four assists and four steals without a turnover in 31 minutes.

“He was amazing in all phases,” Pitino said. “I don't know when I've seen a player work that hard on both ends. As great as Montrezl was, Terry was just great.”

Rozier didn't play in the game's final five minutes, because, Pitino said, he was just “flat-out exhausted. I felt he was really out of gas.”

3. THE ROTATION WAS LARGER THAN ADVERTISED.
Pitino had said for the entire preseason that his rotation would be just seven or eight players. In a converted airplane hangar, however, he had to expand it.

“I thought this was incredibly hot, like a furnace,” Pitino said. “I knew they'd be out of gas very quickly. I tried to buy some time around timeouts with Chris (Jones) and Terry.”

4. THE NEW BLACKSHEAR ENCOUNTERS AN OLD PROBLEM.
Wayne Blackshear had three fouls barely 10 minutes into the season opener of his senior season and played just 20 minutes.

“Typical Wayne,” Pitino said in his postgame radio interview. “Getting in foul trouble and taking his aggressiveness away like he did all last year.”

Nor was Pitino happy with sophomore Anton Gill, who played in his spot. Gill went 0-for-5 from the field and committed five turnovers.

Pitino said it wasn't the shooting that bothered him, but the lack of deflections on the part of both Blackshear and Gill.

“Wayne's going to be OK,” Pitino said. “I've just got to get Anton playing the kind of defense Louisville plays.”

5. THE FIVE SPOT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS.
Pitino said he started freshman Chinanu Onuaku because of the matchup. Had Minnesota gone smaller in the post, he'd have started Mangok Mathiang.

Regardless, Onuaku played just eight minutes before fouling out without a point. Mathiang played 32 minutes and scored just two points while grabbing four rebounds.

But Pitino said after the game that he likes the potential there, and that freshman Jaylen Johnson is making significant strides in practice.

“Chinanu is going to get a lot better, Jaylen Johnson is starting to get better, and we've got stars," Pitino said on his postgame radio program. "Harrell is a star. Rozier is a star. Chris Jones, if he maintains his emotional balance, he can be a star.”

6. CHRIS JONES WAS STEADY. Pitino said Jones can be a star if he “maintains his emotional balance.” In 30 minutes Friday, he had 13 points, three assists, three steals and three turnovers. He also went 4-for-4 from the line and grabbed four rebounds.

7. IMPACT FRESHMAN? It was a hometown guy. Quentin Snider had seven points and four rebounds off the bench, including a big three-pointer when Minnesota was threatening to make a close game of it late.

Snider also grabbed a big pair of defensive rebounds during a decisive spurt late that put the game away.

8. LEVITCH GETS INVOLVED.
If you had David Levitch as the first Cardinal this season to commit a flagrant foul, congratulations. Levitch was whistled for an inadvertent elbow, but made the most of his seven minutes. He scored three points in four free-throw attempts and stayed on the floor for the final four minutes when Rozier sat out, fatigued.

“David's a good basketball player,” Pitino said. “He was physically too weak last year to play. But he's smart, and he's going to get better and better. He's going to be the same kind of walk-on that Tim Henderson was, a valuable asset to our team.”

9. PITINO'S OVERALL ASSESSMENT.
Pitino was happy to win the opener, but he said he's more excited about what his team can be down the road. He told Valvano in his postgame radio interview: “We did some spectacular things. We're only going to get better. Look, no matter what it is, we're not ready this time of year, we're just not, because we have so many things we have to work on. But you see the improvement, in Rozier, in David Levitch, in Montrezl, Mangok's going to be fine, we've got two centers, Chinanu's going to be big-time someday.”

He also said that his team, in Rozier, Harrell and perhaps Jones if he keeps his emotions in check, has three players with “star power.”

10. NEXT UP.
Louisville is back home Monday night for a game against Jacksonville State.

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