CRAWFORD | Life without Mathiang, and five takeaways from Louisv - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Life without Mathiang, and five takeaways from Louisville's win over WKU

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Rick Pitino talks to Mangok Mathiang. The junior forward suffered a broken foot against WKU and will miss 6-8 weeks. (AP photo) Rick Pitino talks to Mangok Mathiang. The junior forward suffered a broken foot against WKU and will miss 6-8 weeks. (AP photo)

MIAMI (WDRB) — Saturday’s 78-56 win over Western Kentucky was a bit different for the University of Louisville basketball team.

The emphasis in this game clearly was defense. WKU has shot it well from the three-point line all season. In the first half, the Cardinals executed so well that WKU not only didn’t make a three, but wasn’t able to take one.

All that shows more progress for the Cardinals. But the second-half loss of Mangok Mathiang to a broken foot that is expected to sideline him well into the month of February is a blow for the team.

“I just thought we played great defense – the way we played the low post, the way we contained, the way we rotated, the way we rebounded,” Pitino said. “You know, when a team shoots 33 percent and only has 3 offensive rebounds, and no threes, you're doing everything correct. That was a great defensive performance.”

Five takeaways from the Cards’ ninth win of the season:

1. MISSING MATHIANG. A couple of things about the loss of Mathiang. First, of course, he’s a team captain. He’s an important presence on this team. In Puerto Rico, Trey Lewis told me of Mathiang, “He’s the first guy everybody looks to. Is this what we want to do? How do we do this?”

That won’t change. Mathaing will still be on the bench, in practice, etc. Where he won’t be is on the back line of the Louisville zone. If you’ll notice, you didn’t see Louisville play a ton of zone without Mathaing on the court, until the past couple of games.

His absence is going to provide a huge opportunity for other bigs — Ray Spalding, Jaylen Johnson and Anas Mahmoud — at that forward spot. But they’re not going to have the knowledge of the zone that Mathaing had. In fact, you wonder how much Louisville will try to play zone against the better teams it has on its schedule. With a roster full of athletic players who can switch everything, maybe that’ll be the route Pitino goes — if he can get his guards to contain better off the dribble.

Whatever the case, it limits Pitino’s defensive options a bit in the near term.
“We can replace the physical stuff,” Pitino said. “It is the talking. You replace him with a guy like Ray (Spalding) who doesn't talk, with a guy like Jaylen (Johnson) who doesn't talk, with Anas (Mahmoud) who doesn't talk, with Matz (Stockman) that doesn't talk. That is the biggest problem we will have. Not with the physical part—but with talking and knowing the schemes. The one good thing is we have some depth and hopefully Anas will be back for the Minardi Classic.”

2. TAKING A PUNCH. After going to the locker room with an 18-point halfitme lead (and allowing only 16 first-half points), U of L saw that lead shrink to eight in the early minutes of the second half, with WKU having success in transition against the press.

The second-half defense wasn’t particularly pleasing to Pitino, but seeing his team respond to WKU’s run was.

“We did not play as well in the second half, but it was good for us to learn how to withstand a run,” Pitino said. “Last year at this time we would get it to 10 they would get it to two or four and it would be life or death. We did not let that happen because we are pretty good on offense. . . . You all remember how many times last year a team would come back in the second half and it would be life and death to win the game. And they withstood their run and came back and made some really good offensive plays."
. He’s made progress every game, and this marked the first time this season he’s led the team in scoring, finishing with 16 points and four assists. On the season, he leads the team with 47 assists and 12 turnovers, and is averaging 10.4 points per game and shooting 39 percent from three-point range.

Snider missed a few runners in the lane Saturday, but Pitino said he even likes that shot from Snider.

“I like his runner. Trey attacks (the rim) better because he's stronger. Q doesn't have great length. He's not overly physical. But I like his runner. And I like the way Q's playing."

Pitino noted that Snider and Lewis continue to play better together, and that Donovan Mitchell can come into the game without the Cards losing anything.

“It's an excellent backcourt,” Pitino said. “Donovan Mitchell is playing better, he just gets lost a little bit on defense but he can play offense with those two guys every night."

The Cards got 15 points from Lee and 15 from Lewis. Chinanu Onuaku had 10 points and 12 rebounds. They shot 46.2 percent from the field, and allowed WKU to shoot 41.5.

4. THE FUTURE OF THE WKU SERIES. I believe it will continue, even if it doesn’t happen next season. Pitino said he hasn’t thought about it. Given the experience that Louisville should have back next season, I see no reason not to play it. But my guess is that it takes a break, with a new contract beginning in 2017-18.

WKU coach Ray Harper said, “I think it's been a good series. I think it's good for both programs. Obviously you look at how many non-conference games Louisville has to play and I think playing an in-state team like ourselves is good. We appreciate what Louisville has done - they didn't have to play us the last eight years. We do appreciate it. We think it's good for us as a program. Hopefully it's been helpful for them. They've been to a couple Final Fours, so it definitely hasn't hurt."

Pitino said, “They're good friends of ours, I would like to continue playing them. If not next year we'll continue == I hope at least the following year . . . We’ve got to look at who we are we playing. We don't know right now and I really haven't thought about it to be honest with you."

5. PITINO ON THE BILLY MINARDI CLASSIC. Pitino was very candid when asked about the Minardi Classic this weekend, but expressed some of the anger he feels that the scandalous allegations facing the program have brought the name of his brother-in-law into all this. Minardi and his family have been innocent victims of this whole sordid mess. It’s unfortunate. Where possible, I have tried to refer to the building where the allegations took place as the men’s basketball dormitory, where possible, for that reason. When asked about the two-day event, to be played this Tuesday and Wednesday, Pitino answered a bit emotionally.

“We are going to honor Billy (Minardi) in the right fashion, unlike some of the things that went on, we are going to honor him the right way,” Pitino said. “We are very disturbed, what's true or what may not be true is not important to me. The fact that one thing might have gone on is a disgrace in my book. We are going to honor him the right way this time around and his legacy.”

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