CRAWFORD | Long day nets improvement, Cards push Puerto Rico to - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Long day nets improvement, Cards push Puerto Rico to OT before falling

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GUAYNABO, P.R. (WDRB) — Just another day at the Ritz. The University of Louisville basketball team woke up Thursday, had breakfast, sat down in a meeting room, and went through a painstaking replay of their 34-point loss to the Puerto Rico National Team the night before.

“It was kind of, like, twisted,” sophomore Jaylen Johnson said. “Coach at first was like, ‘Don’t be disappointed.’ And then he looked at the film and he got mad and he just chewed us.”

Forget the beach. Forget the night’s preliminary game against the Puerto Rico B team. Forget coaching. U of L’s Rick Pitino determined that he would observe and comment, not coach. He wound up doing most of the second half and overtime of U of L’s 102-94 loss on the radio.

He liked most of what he was describing. A night after getting blown out, the Cardinals were attentive in an extended pregame walk-through (read: practice), and corrected a multitude of errors all while maintaining a positive attitude toward the coaches and each other.

“I was trying to observe because we have to make a cut (on the Puerto Rican team) and I wanted to observe Louisville without trying to beat them,” Pitino said. “The guys played great tonight. This was by far our best performance. What we worked on in our walkthrough was — we (Puerto Rico) switched (on defense) yesterday, trying to take Louisville out of their offense, and it worked. (Louisville) went with a bigger lineup tonight, switching and trying to take them out of their offense, and it worked.”

The Cards led by seven midway through the fourth quarter, but foul trouble crippled them down the stretch. Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding, Donovan Mitchell and Anas Mahmoud all fouled out of the game. The foul total was 34 for Louisville and 16 for Puerto Rico, and the Cards were outscored by 16 at the free-throw line.

Still they played to an 87-87 tie in regulation before Puerto Rico pulled away in overtime in the best matchup between the two teams yet.

"It’s a great group," Pitino said. "It’s a very special group. I’ve got a great feeling about these guys and what they’re all about. And tonight a veteran team beat them mentally and took advantage of switches. Javier Gonzalez played a great game. But I really like what they did tonight in terms of, the last few nights they’ve been penetrating to get their shot. Tonight they penetrated to get somebody else a shot. That was the point of emphasis and it really worked tonight. We got a lot of open looks. Terrific passing.

Pitino was particularly pleased with his big men. Mathiang was 5-6 from the field. Mahmoud was 2-2 from the field but blocked a pair of shots and did some good things defensively. Spalding drew the starting spot at power forward and was 4-9 from the field to finish with 11 points.

"I had a long talk with Anas and Matz (Stockman) today," Pitino said. "A long talk with them. I had a long talk with (Quentin). I had a long talk with a lot of the guys. I just told them, we’re three months away from our game and you’re not having enough fun right now. You’re disappointed in losing. But I said you’re playing against pros. Come out, make each other better, and I said to Anas and Matz, you guys need to step up. You’re sophomores now. You need to show — and Anas did tonight — he showed that he’s worth of being a Louisville Cardinal."

Damion Lee, again, was the biggest factor on offense. He made 11 of 18 shots and had team highs in points (29), rebounds (10) and assists (4).

Down the stretch, the Cards got some very big baskets from Jaylen Johnson, who hadn’t played particularly well in the previous games on the trip. He finished with 11 points thanks in part to 7 of 8 shooting from the free-throw line. He drew a third of the 18 fouls that Puerto Rico committed against the Cards.

The other player who continued his improvement was freshman Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 7 points, including a highlight-reel slam.

Pitino said he likes his guards to be in the 205-pound range. When he found out that Mitchell had gotten to nearly 225, “I just exploded.” He said that trainers have gotten Mitchell back down to 211 during this trip, and that he’ll be more effective as he nears his target weight.

“He was great tonight,” Pitino said. “His hustle was great.”

After the long day, the locker room vibe was improved, despite the loss.

“It was the most serious film session I’ve ever been in my entire life, to be honest with you,” Mitchell said. “We watched the entire game, and you could see in everybody’s eyes after that, this was different. We were a different basketball team than the one that played yesterday.”

Mathiang said that the captains held meetings with players on their own, away from coaches, to establish a serious preparation mindset within the team.

“To see everybody respond the way they did, from the morning all the way through the jump ball and the game, it’s something to move forward from,” Mathiang said. “Everybody’s got to understand, it’s only August. Just to see everybody getting better, day by day, it’s huge. I would tell everybody, just watch out.”

U of L played without starting center Chinanu Onuaku, who was suspended for shoving Puerto Rico’s J.J. Barea during the postgame handshake after Wednesday’s loss. Pitino said Onuaku will play Friday when the Cards take on Puerto Rico again in the Municipal Coliseum of Manati, on the northern coast of Puerto Rico.

"Nanu’s come a long way with his maturity," Pitino said. "And he learned tonight that sometimes immature behavior can cost a team a victory. But I was happy — not happy that we didn’t play him — but I was happy that Anas Mahmoud got a chance to play and show his ability. So in every dark cloud there’s a silver lining. We knew that (Onuaku) can play. We needed to find out if Anas could play a little bit better than he was playing."

NOTES: Pitino said he’s hoping to cancel Sunday’s scheduled game at the Humacao Arena. He said his players, because of the hectic schedule, haven’t been able to get out and see much of San Juan or enjoy the trip, and he’d like for them to have a day of fun away from basketball before returning to Louisville.

Also, the live stream from GoCards.com failed because of connectivity problems. U of L had arranged for service in the facility, but it wasn’t good enough to broadcast a live feed. School officials are hoping to make the game available on-demand, and hope to live stream the rest of the trip successfully.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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