CRAWFORD | Cards thankful for defense in 45-33 win over Clevelan - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cards thankful for defense in 45-33 win over Cleveland State

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — We could dwell on the University of Louisville offense. We could note that on Thanksgiving Eve against Cleveland State, the Cardinals' couldn't have shot it much worse if they were heaving basted Butterballs at the basket.

Wait a minute. I want to be thankful for that alliteration.

Yes, we could shake our heads at the free-throw shooting, which was no more “free” than some bait-and-switch Black Friday offers. The Cards made just 12 of 26 from the line.

We could do all that. But it is, after all, nearly Thanksgiving. A time for gratitude.

So if you're a U of L fan, I'd suggest just taking the Thanksgiving approach, and say a prayer of thanks for defense.

The Cardinals did play some serious defense to emerge with a 45-33 win over Cleveland State. They allowed only two field goals in the game's final 12 minutes.

It was the second-lowest win total for a Rick Pitino-coached team in his 700-win career, and the lowest since a win over UCLA when he was at Boston University in 1981-82. The 59 points U of L allowed to Cleveland State and Savannah State its past two games are the lowest two-game total for U of L since 1937.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to lay in some supplies for a flood.

You might've expected a frustrated coach after such an offensive showing, but afterward, Pitino was nearly Charlie Strong-esque in praise of his defense.

“Our guys, as bad as we were offensively tonight in most phases, we were very good on defense. Very good,” Pitino said, before cautioning, “. . . We're playing excellent defense right now, but I'm telling you, it's fool's gold in this regard: You can't play our style without a bench. You have to develop a bench.”

For the first time in Pitino's U of L career, the Cardinals didn't have a point off the bench.

In some ways, Cleveland State specializes in these kinds of games. A year ago, they went into Rupp Arena and made a game of it against Kentucky, losing by seven. But when they lost to a Savannah State team that U of L nearly shut out in the first half, few thought this would be a game.

Cleveland State, however, not only knew the game plan it wanted to execute against Louisville, it did an outstanding job of sticking with it.

The Vikings took away the two main sources of offense for U of L — from turnovers off the full-court press, and in transition with fast-breaks off of missed shots.

They simply didn't send big numbers to the offensive glass, opting instead to sprint back on defense to prevent the fast break. And they packed in a zone and held U of L to a low enough shooting percentage that its press couldn't become a factor.

Cleveland State outscored U of L 8-2 in fast-break points and 11-9 off of turnovers.

You do that, you have an outstanding opportunity to beat Louisville. In fact, the Cards have lost plenty of these games — most recently to Drexel in 2010. Junior Trey Lewis had 24 of his team's 33 points. He just didn't have enough help.

Pitino calls these “Wichita State games.”

“I told the guys, ‘What's going to win is not your jump shot, what is going to win it is offensive rebounding. You're going to have to make your free throws, and you're going to have to play the best defense of your lives,'” Pitino said. “It's going to be a Wichita State game. You're not going to win it with offense, it's not Savannah State.”

The Cards did win with defense, and with rebounding (beating CSU 46-37 on the boards and 9-1 in second-chance points), but it didn't win on the line.

Pitino says the reason for his team's free-throw woes (it's now 58.6 percent on the season as a team) is that the players are too fatigued when they're shooting them.

“If you'll notice, one of the reasons why we're not as good as we should be from the foul line is we're playing too many minutes,” Pitino said. “Guys are just tired. There's not a whole I can do about it because guys aren't ready to play. We're winning with focus on scouting and doing little things but our bench is just not ready right now.”

Getting Mangok Mathiang back from a sprained ankle will help. He sat out Wednesday night's game but will be back for next Tuesday's game against Ohio State. Point guard Chris Jones said he has aggravated a stress fracture he suffered in his right shin over the summer and had it iced after the game Wednesday, during which he went 3 of 10 from the field, 1 of 5 from three-point range and 4 of 9 from the line.

Terry Rozier was 3-11 from the field. Anton Gill went 0-3. The Cards shot just 31.9 percent as a team. The made just 3 of 20 three-pointers.

The primary bright spots were Montrezl Harrell, who made 6 of 11 and finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. And freshman Chinanu Onuaku, who played a season-high 35 minutes and had just two points, but also nine rebounds and seven blocked shots.

“Chris Jones has just got to understand the game a little bit and what's there,” Pitino said. “I tried to tell him, when Bernard King was leading the NBA in scoring with the Knicks he'd come to me every game and say, Rick, where am I going to be open? Where are they going to double me? Where are they coming from? Here's the highest scorer in the league asking, where can I score? And Chris doesn't understand that certain defenses will give you certain things. If you drive through the teeth of the defense against this team they don't give it to you. He just has to grasp that, understanding what the defense gives. He'll get it.”

Pitino was upbeat. He told the crowd after Tom Jurich honored him for winning his 700th game afterward, “We'll get better. We're going to have a great season.”

He said he's hoping to hear good news on freshman Shaqquan Aaron soon.

“He's not going to be the answer,” Pitino said. “But we need him.”

There's a long way to go. On the bench, Pitino kept repeating, “It's not about your missed shots. Do not worry about your missed shots. It's all about your defense. If you want to get there (to the Final Four) again, it's going to take one NCAA game where shooting is not going to be there that you have to just win. So this type of game, everybody's needed. . . . It was a good grind-it-out win. You saw Butler beat North Carolina — you can lose these type of games. Happens all the time. And we won it, and we did it with defense.”

Cardinal fans can be thankful for that.

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