BOZICH | Pitino skeptical Louisville bench will heat up soon - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Pitino skeptical Louisville bench will heat up soon

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The question had to be asked. So I asked it:

Is Rick Pitino optimistic the day will arrive this season when the University of Louisville basketball team enjoys more than five, three or lately zero points from its bench?

“I'm not, to be honest with you,” Pitino said.

Hmmm.

“I'm optimistic about their futures, but I'm not optimistic about them turning the corner [this season],” Pitino said.

There is a reason for that: Terry Rozier, Chris Jones, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear are the only Cardinals' players who have made a field goal in the last 100 minutes and 25 seconds Louisville has played.

Who was the last Cardinal player outside the Big Four to contribute a field goal?

B.J. Flynn? I said make a field goal, not take a charge.

Barry Sumpter? I wonder whatever happened to “Big Smooth?”

Roger Burkman? You get the point. It's been awhile.

The correct answer is Shaqquan Aaron. He made a jump shot four minutes and 35 seconds into the second half of the Cardinals' comeback victory over North Carolina in overtime Jan. 31.

Since that basket, the bench and starting center are 0-for-February. The streak should end Wednesday night at 7 p.m. when the Cardinals host Pittsburgh at the KFC Yum! Center.

Louisville won at Pittsburgh Jan. 25. The Cards celebrated 13 points from their bench – 11 by Mangok Mathiang as well as a bucket from Quentin Snider. Pitt is a .500 team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that is not defending as well as the Panthers defended several seasons ago in the Big East.

But for Pitino's team the last 2 ½ games have been difficult to understand – or explain.

An issue?

You know how this works. It isn't an issue when Louisville wins – and they have won four of five. It is an issue when the Cardinals lose – and they scored only 47 points while losing at Virginia Saturday.

It will absolutely be an issue if one of the Big Four finds himself sidelined for any reason (foul trouble, injury, whatever) in March.

Will fatigue eventually become a factor for Pitino's players?

Stay tuned. A year ago, no U of L players averaged 30 minutes per game. Russ Smith and Harrell averaged 29.3, then the number dropped to Chris Jones at 25.6.

This season, Jones is playing 30.7 minutes per game, Blackshear 31.1, Harrell 33 and Rozier 33. Rozier, Harrell and Jones are at 35 in ACC play.

I looked at the numbers of the nine other teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Each has at least six legitimate scoring options. Several have seven or eight.

Still, Louisville is 19-4, not 15-8. If the Cards beat Pitt, they'll improve to 8-3 and move into a third-place tie with North Carolina and Duke in the ACC, which is not the Downtown Y Wednesday Night League.

When Louisville won at Miami last without any points outside the Big Four, it was more evidence of how formidable Rozier, Jones, Harrell and Blackshear can be. Rozier and Jones are the kinds of scorers who can control a game.

When Louisville lost at Virginia four days later, it stirred the question about Louisville's lack of a fifth scoring option firmly establishing itself as this team's fatal flaw.

I've written about it before, but scoring from the bench and starting center position has become a greater problem since the last time I mentioned it.

Louisville's fifth leading scorer is Chinanu Onuaku. He is barely averaging 3 points per game (3.2). Snider and Anton Gill, the back-up guards, are shooting a combined 31 percent.

Onuaku and Mathiang have combined to average nearly 10 rebounds and three blocks per game. But offense remains a mystery.

I still believe Snider has the ability to change the narrative. He appeared to play with more confidence and assertiveness against Virginia. He didn't make a shot. But he attempted two, one on a nice drive, in only four minutes.

Despite Pitino's initial comment, the coach later said he believes that Snider is getting there on offense.

“Quentin's fine,” Pitino said. “Quentin can play offense with the best of them.

“He just has to learn to keep his man in front of him. But offensively, he's good as the other four guys in terms of he can get the job done. He can score. He can pass. He does great things. It's defensively there is a big dropoff.”

But it's offense off the bench that has been something I've never seen from a Rick Pitino basketball team.

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