CRAWFORD | As Pitino looks to develop depth, a scrimmage for the - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | As Pitino looks to develop depth, a scrimmage for the reserves

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AP photo. AP photo.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It has been a strange and different basketball season for Rick Pitino and his University of Louisville basketball team.

Not since 2005 has he used as short a regular rotation as he has this season. The Cardinals have been able to count on their four primary standouts — Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear — but beyond those, have had little success getting significant consistent contribution from anyone else.

Pitino has been working all season to get to an eight-man rotation he is comfortable with, and has been nearing that status over the past several weeks with Mangok Mathiang, Quentin Snider and Shaqquan Aaron the first three off the bench. But on Thursday, he took another, somewhat unusual step, toward that goal.

Pitino held an intrasquad scrimmage, and put his “big four” on the bench. He was looking to see what the others could do, and would do. That in itself, probably, isn't so unusual. That the school issued a press release after the scrimmage to report what happened is.

The Cards held the scrimmage after returning Thursday from their Wednesday night victory at Boston College. Pitino had Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier coach the White team, and Wayne Blackshear and Chris Jones coached the Red.

Perhaps it's an attempt to bolster more confidence. Regardless, Jaylen Johnson, who has played just 77 minutes and made the one three-pointer he has taken all season, drained a three with 1.3 seconds left to give the White team to a 67-65 victory.

Johnson finished with 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the winners. Anton Gill was their leading scorer with 23 points to go with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. David Levitch had 13 points and a game-high five assists. Anas Mahmoud had seven points, six rebounds and five blocks.

Quentin Snider led the Red team with 23 points, four assists and was 5-11 from three. He gave the team the late lead with a three before Johnson hit the game-winner. Chinanu Onuaku had 10 points and 19 rebounds. Mankgok Mathiang had 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Pitino said after the BC win that he had settled on Mathiang and Onuaku as his post rotation, that he could count on Mahmoud “in a pinch” so long as it weren't against players like Jahlil Okafor or some of Kentucky's big men. Beyond that, he said Snider has been making a move in practice, and called Aaron "half-ready."

“Quentin Snider, I have no concern about putting him in the game now,” Pitino told Paul Rogers on his postgame radio show by Learfield Sports. “He has been one of the top three players in practice every day for the past two weeks. Now you may say, why didn't you play him more minutes? We just, it was a very confusing game for our match-up zone. And Q, it's just a difficult game for him. We needed Chris and Terry in this game. I had no qualms about using him, I move Chris to the two. So we've got Mangok and Q ready right now (off the bench), and Shaqquan Aaron is half ready. He gets beat a lot, but those are going to be our eight guys. I'm not afraid to put Shaqquan in. Those are going to be our eight players.”

With North Carolina coming to the KFC Yum! Center, Pitino clearly is still looking to get more from his bench. In the first meeting between the teams, U of L's reserves outscored North Carolina's 6-5 in an up-tempo game.

On the season, U of L's bench is averaging 12.3 points per game. Opponent's reserves are averaging 14.8. That's not likely to change a great deal. But if Pitino can get a few more minutes from his reserves, it could make a difference heading into the team's stretch run.

U of L has given up an average of just 25.5 points in the first halves of games this season. It has given up 33 points per game in the second, and outscored opponents by just 5.3 points in the second half. Just a bit more assistance from the bench might help boost that margin, and keep the Cards around a little longer come postseason.

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