BOZICH | Louisville's Big Four needs bridge to more offensive he - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville's Big Four needs bridge to more offensive help

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Here is the surest way to determine how well somebody knows this University of Louisville basketball team:

Ask them to name the fifth-leading scorer on Rick Pitino's squad? Do not look at the statistics.

I failed. I picked Mangok Mathiang. He's actually eighth at 2.5 points per game, even though he is averaging more than 20 minutes.

I challenged eight people who either cover or follow the Cardinals with my question.

Whiff. Whiff. Whiff.

The answer is Chinanu Onuaku, the freshman center. Pitino said that Onuaku will return to the starting lineup Saturday when the Cardinals visit North Carolina for a game scheduled to tip at 2:05 p.m. in the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

Onuaku is averaging 3.8 points per game after scoring four points in the Cardinals' last four games. He has scored 10 points since Louisville beat Indiana on Dec. 9.

His 3.8 average is the fewest points that Louisville's fifth-leading scorer has averaged since the 1937-38 season, when Tom Beasley averaged 3.6 per game.

This is strange stuff. During Pitino's first 13 seasons at U of L, the fewest points the Cards have gotten from their fifth-leading scorer over an entire season was 5.6 from Kendall Dartez in 2003-04.

For the last four seasons, the Cards have had at least five guys averaging 8.1. Over the last four seasons the fifth-leading scorer has been (in order, starting with last season) Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock, Peyton Siva and Chris Smith, all guys capable of scoring 20.

Opposing coaches had to defend all five spots. Not this season.

The only guys who have scored more than 15 points in a game this season have been the big four of Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier, Chris Jones and Blackshear.

“I want to see improvement from Nanu, Shaqquan (Aaron), Anton Gill, Jaylen (Johnson),” Pitino said. “And they're doing it in practice.

“In the last 10 days we've had great practices and they're getting better each day. And that's because they're making it more competitive.

“Like yesterday, the second unit for the first time this year outplayed the first unit. It hasn't happened one time, and that's good.”

Practice is a start. But Louisville needs it against North Carolina, Miami or Syracuse. Outside the Cards' big four, Louisville has enjoyed five double-figure performances from the rest of the team.

That would be Gill against FIU, Aaron against Wake Forest and Onuaku against Jacksonville State, Marshall and Savannah State.

That is the complete list.

Without a dependable fifth or sixth scoring option, the Cards have still been able to win 14 of 15 games, handling everybody but Kentucky.

Now Louisville has moved into conference play. That requires wins away from the KFC Yum! Center. Four other ACC teams are ranked in the Top 20, including North Carolina, which makes the return trip to Louisville Jan. 31.

Several guys who have been doing it in practice must deliver in a game and make it risky for opponents to run one or two extra defenders at Harrell whenever he catches a pass in the post.

Rozier, Jones and Blackshear have made 66 of Louisville's 91 three-point field goals. Nobody else has made more than six. The development of another shooter would also start to eliminate the congestion in the lane.

Doing it in practice needs to translate to doing it in a game – and then in several games in a row. I asked Pitino if it was a confidence thing?

“I think so,” he said. “I believe so.

“I think (freshman guard) Quentin Snider is learning certain things – how to get playing time. I think he realizes now he has to play defense to stay on the court because if you're in conference play and every game is close, especially like the Clemson game where points mean something, you've got to guard people.”

And for the Cards to keep winning in the ACC, they'll also have to help the Big Four score.

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