CRAWFORD | Five takeaways from Louisville's 89-81 loss to Puerto - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Five takeaways from Louisville's 89-81 loss to Puerto Rico

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U of L assistant Ralph Willard is coaching the Cardinals in Puerto Rico this week. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) U of L assistant Ralph Willard is coaching the Cardinals in Puerto Rico this week. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

SAN JUAN, P.R. (WDRB) — I’m not quite sure how the University of Louisville basketball players are going to handle these double-headers against Puerto Rico. I’ve just finished covering one, and I’m tired.

The Puerto Rico National Team, coached by Rick Pitino, beat the Cardinals 89-81 Tuesday night in the Coliseo de Puerto Rico. It was a bruising, intense game. Pitino, who predicted beforehand that the younger, better-conditioned Cardinals would outlast Puerto Rico from a conditioning standpoint, had to admit afterward that he had been wrong.

U of L, which led by as many as 10 in the first half, fell behind by as many as 11 in the second as the older Puerto Rico squad wore the Cardinals down.

“They ran out of gas because, not so much the cardiovascular, but because the physical nature of the game wore them out,” Pitino said. “But they all got better. Really I was very impressed.”

Let’s look at the highlights.

1. MEET DAMION LEE. The transfer from Drexel was the No. 4 scorer in college basketball last season. In his first exhibition game as a Cardinal, you can see why. Lee has good size, at 6-6, and an extremely quick release. Not only was he the best scorer for the Cards, but he was the most efficient scorer. He finished with 36 points on 11 of 18 shooting, 5-10 from three-point range and 9-of-9 from the free-throw line.

“I think you all see what I mean about Damion Lee,” Pitino said. “I think this young man has a chance of greatness. This is only one exhibition game, but he’s got a great mentality to score without being selfish. So that was a big positive.”

Lee said his focus is less on scoring than on fitting into the team.

“Really, how well Trey and I have fit in, isn’t just a testament to me and Trey, but to everyone on the team,” he said. “Our focus has just been to buy into what the coaches want us to do, and that’s the focus of everyone right now.”

Watch more of what Lee had to say after the game here.

2. LEWIS STRUGGLED SHOOTING, BUT ALSO LED. In his debut for the Cards, Lewis went just 3-for-14 from the field, and 0-for-6 from three-point range. He admitted that the physical play from Puerto Rico took him out of his game. Still, Pitino was pleased.

“He did good,” Pitino said. “He’s a tough kid. He took a couple of ill-advised shots when they were only down three. He comes off the pick-and-roll and they switched, and instead of taking the guy on he settled for jump shots. Outside of that he was terrific.”

Lewis wasn’t the only one who had trouble adjusting to the amount of contact in the professional game. (Here’s an example, via still photo series and video, from freshman Donovan Mitchell.) But Lewis said it led to mental errors, and he needs to clean that up.

“There were times I lost my composure,” Lewis said. “But there’s a lot of positive to take out of this game. We fought till the end of the game and got to see what some guys can do. . . . They’re definitely tough. This is going to test us. Tonight we’re going to get together and talk about why we lost this game — mostly execution, we broke down at times, and the physicality. They were able to take us out of some things we wanted to do.”

Watch Lewis hand to Lee in a two-man game here.

3. BIG MEN, BIG IMPROVEMENT. No players on the team have changed more from the standpoint of assertiveness than Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang. Onuaku had 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Mathiang had four points and eight rebounds.

“We’ve played in international games so we knew a little bit more what to expect,” Mathiang said.

4. WILL THE CARDS HOLD UP OVER SEVEN GAMES AND FIVE MORE DAYS? Pitino said he doesn’t think that will be a problem.

“This team is really special, with how hard they work,” Pitino said. “They ran out of gas tonight, for the first time, and got in foul trouble, but this is a much more physical game than the college game. It’s much more physical than the NBA. You see it, the way they guard the ball, they guard the screens. It’s not just Puerto Rico, it’s Brazil, it’s everybody. Every team plays that way, and it’s very, very aggressive.”

5. ASKED ABOUT HIS OUTLOOK FOR THE SEASON AFTER THE FIRST EXHIBITION, Pitino was quite upbeat.

“I think they’ve got the makings of being a great team. I really do. I’m going to be very up front with you. I though this would be a total rebuilding year. Even with the additions, I thought it would be a rebuilding year. This trip has given me renewed hope that it’s not going to be, because of practice. Trey and Damion, Nanu’s improvement, Mangok’s improvement, and the length of our basketball team.”

Still, there’s a long way to go. And that’s just on this Puerto Rican trip.

Box score from Tuesday’s game:

Here’s a recap of tonight’s opener, between a team of U of L reserves and the Puerto Rico national team.

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