LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The deflection is a building block of Rick Pitino basketball. Take a look at his most successful teams, and you'll see it shows up heavily in the DNA of all of them.

In Pitino's world, you're credited with a deflection if you make a play to disrupt the opposing offense — if you tip a pass, get a steal, block a shot, get a back-tip on the fast-break, draw a charge, grab a loose ball.

His great teams have usually majored in them. For His NCAA championship team in 2013, there were games, especially during that team's postseason run, in which Peyton Siva or Russ Smith seemed to log a deflection on nearly every opposing possession. One game they combined for 32. That team averaged 42 per game.

Pitino sets the goal of 18-22 deflections in the first half of games. The current U of L team is averaging 26. For an entire game. 

After last night's 74-65 loss to N.C. State, the Cards' first loss of the season to a team not nationally ranked, Pitino lamented the lack of deflections, which meant a lack of steals and opponent turnovers, which meant a lack of fast-break opportunities, which meant big problems for the Cardinals.

It's not a new thing. Points off turnovers, as a percentage of U of L's offense, have been tailing off since the non-conference portion of the schedule. Improved competition is one reason, but not the only reason. The Cards had only two steals against N.C. State. They've had only seven in the past three games. 

“I think our guys are not like my other teams,” Pitino said. “They let points dictate. If they're not scoring, they don't play great defense. We've always had the mindset that we're always going to play great defense regardless of whether we score or not. Our guys get deflated when they don't score, and they paid the price tonight because of it. They deserved to lose the game tonight. It's been going on for a while, and you got caught by a team that was better than us. I mean, two steals for us is ridiculous.”

Speaking with Bob Valvano on his postgame radio show sponsored by Tom Drexler and produced by Learfield Spots, Pitino said the right mindset is missing.

“Peyton Siva averaged nine deflections, Russ Smith averaged eight deflections, they often had 11 and 10,” Pitino said. “Our two backcourt players, playing many more minutes, are averaging five deflections a game.” 

“We are under 10 fast breaks per game on the season,” he said later. “So what does that do? It doesn't give Montrezl Harrell the open court, so he doesn't duck in. We're becoming a half-court (offensive) team where they can take him out of it by trapping him. So if you don't get steals, you don't get fast breaks. We're down, where the championship team averaged 42 deflections a game, last year averaged 34-36 deflections a game. This team is averaging 26, and no fast breaks.”

Pitino said he's worried that his team's mindset during games is dictated too often by its offense.

And I would add that its offense is dictated too often by a me-first mentality. Chris Jones driving the ball up the court, shaking his defender and pulling up for an elbow jumper without passing the ball to a teammate or even looking at one, is not good offense. It's a shot he can make. It's a shot he has made. But it's also a shot he can get at any time.

Against N.C. State, I watched Rozier get daylight for a three-pointer on the break, but instead square up to his defender, dribble, jab step and then take a jump shot over the defender just inside the line? Why? Not ten seconds had elapsed on the shot clock. 

“When it becomes Louisville First and you go over all the things, then the name on the back prospers,” Pitino told Valvano. “Right now it's become scoring first, and not Louisville First. You see it in their faces. When they don't score, they're not happy. And instead of giving credit to the defense, we say, ‘Oh, I got fouled.' It's clear. It's a team that has to understand defense and they don't, and we've got to keep working on it.”

There were problems on offense, surely. There was a lack of patience. There was a lack of passing. The Cards' couldn't get the ball to Harrell in any kind of decent scoring position. Bigs couldn't finish around the basket.

At one point late, Pitino called timeout to draw up a play to get the ball to Harrell. Instead, Quentin Snider ran the play to the wrong side of the court, and got the ball to Mangok Mathiang, who shot over the wrong shoulder and wasn't close.

Yet the Cards endured a drought as long as any you're likely to see on the offensive end — eight minutes without a field goal — and still led at the break.

In the second half, they fell behind and didn't play good enough defense to stay within easy striking distance. Point guard Cat Barber “dominated the game,” Pitino said. He drove the baseline, and would hit cutters down the middle of the lane for dunks and layups if U of L's big rotated to help, or he would kick the ball out the corner for a three-point attempt. U of L's bigs looked bad defensively several times, but often it was because someone didn't rotate down to help when a big man had to rotate to help on the driver.

Those kinds of details, and the lack of defensive disruption, are what worries Pitino heading into the season's home stretch. 

“The attitude — I see it every game they don't shoot well,” Pitino told Valvano. “They deflate and defense is not as important. It's your veterans. Terry Rozier did not play good defense tonight because he wasn't scoring. Montrezl. It's all of them. I don't want to single out one person.

“I'm concerned that the last three years, we were a tight unit in all phases of the game,” Pitino said. “This, from Day One, has not been a tight unit in all phases. They turn their defense on and off. I've never had teams get two steals or no steals. And it's an attitude. It's not effort. It's an attitude. Little things like tracing the ball when you're playing the ball, getting into your position, blocking shots, loose ball recovery.”

If it's attitude, perhaps this loss will jar it to where it needs to be.

But of all the numbers you can look at — shooting percentages, turnovers forced, and on down the line — you're likely not going to find one that is going to affect this team's direction as much as deflections. And right now, the Cards aren't getting enough of them.

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