CRAWFORD | With Lewis likely out, Pitino talks Wake Forest, and ACC outlook
Louisville guard Trey Lewis landed on a teammate's foot taking a three-point shot in practice Friday, leaving Rick Pitino "hoping for a miracle" that Lewis might play Sunday, but planning on facing Wake Forest short-handed in the ACC opener.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The timing, frankly, could’ve been better. Louisville graduate guard Trey Lewis was shooting a routine three-pointer just above the right of the key and landed on a teammate’s foot, spraining his ankle in practice Friday.
The injury, earlier in the season, might’ve been seen as an opportunity to get a younger player experience in during an easier stretch of non-conference games.
But with Wake Forest coming into the KFC Yum! Center Sunday at 8 p.m. for the beginning of Atlantic Coast Conference play, Louisville coach Rick Pitino needs his No. 2 scorer and co-captain.
“Hoping for a miracle and he plays,” Pitino said Saturday afternoon. “It’s doubtful, but you never know.”
If Lewis can’t go, Pitino will go into ACC play with David Levitch as a back-up point guard, against a much-improved Wake Forest team. The Demon Deacons already have wins over Indiana, UCLA, Arkansas and LSU. They played Xavier tough in an eight-point loss in Winston Salem.
“Wake Forest has almost every player back plus three that played in last year’s game,” Pitino said. “We had a difficult time with (Devin) Thomas last year and we don’t have one guy that scored a point in that game last year. So they’re a much, much better basketball team. We’re a different basketball team than last year.”
The Cardinals took a couple of days off after their two-point loss at Kentucky. Pitino said they came back in good spirits. Lewis had missed a couple of practices because of a sore heel, and already was going to come off the bench in favor of freshman Donovan Mitchell, just because he’d missed practice.
Now it’s doubtful he’ll play at all.
Thomas had 31 points against the Cardinals in an 11-point loss in Winston Salem. He went 11 of 14 from the field, had 10 defensive rebounds and 11 overall, and went to the free-throw line 17 times, but only made nine.
That’s Thomas’ game this season. He’s third in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He ranks among the top 20 in rebounding percentage.
“We had great difficulty stopping him, because when he catches the ball at the foul line, his footwork he’s extremely quick,” Pitino said. “If you double him he likes to split it. He’s a very good offensive basketball player, in terms of he’ll follow his own shot and put it in. What I like most about him, though, is he can score in bunches because his footwork is so great. We struggled with him last year. We’ve got to be very conscious of him. Now in that game last year, Nanu (Onuaku) was in early foul trouble and we played mostly with Anas (Mahmoud), and he hurt Anas in that game.”
Keeping Onuaku on the court will be a key for Louisville not just in this game, but throughout ACC play. While most focus when to Lewis and Damion Lee for their scoring against Kentucky, Onuaku again scored the highest on Pitino’s MVP chart, because of his offensive rebounding, deflections, steals and assists, primarily.
But Onuaku’s propensity for picking up offensive fouls, particularly on screens, has to stop.
“He’s the most intelligent person on the basketball team in terms of scouting and basketball,” Pitino said. “But he’s just making the most unintelligent fouls, because sooner or later, he’s got to see the rules have changed. He’s getting the fouls on screens, every game the same way. I told him, if it happens to you once, you learn. If it happens twice, you never do it again. But you keep doing it.”
Pitino said that some of the responsibility lies with the player running into Onuaku’s screens, and that they’ve continued to work on getting it right in practice.
That has been the case in a variety of areas. He said the Kentucky loss probably was the sloppiest performance of the season for the Cardinals.
“We made 45 mistakes in the last game, which is a high number for us,” he said. “Usually it’s in the twenties. Those things are, like, when you set a moving screen, or when you don’t use the screen, or when you’re running a pick and roll you go wide and don’t use the screen. You’re an offensive rebounder, you don’t get away from the person’s back. You’re a person who catches the ball and you’re being pressured, you pivot, pivot, pivot, you don’t throw the ball away. If you’re running against the press you don’t run to the corner and get trapped. So we had 45 little mistakes in that game that add up. We want to get it back into the twenties and into the teens.”
The Cards will count on sophomore point guard Quentin Snider to bounce back from rough outing against Kentucky. They’ll need more, too, from freshman Deng Adel, who has been working his way back from a sprained knee.
And Pitino will keep hoping for a quick return from Lewis, and a fast start to ACC play, before a February he describes as “a death march.”
“There are no easy wins. Even the teams that are a little down, there’s a couple at the bottom (of the ACC) that are down, they’re starving for a win so much that they’re going to play really, really hard,” Pitino said. “We’re the type of basketball team, if we think we’re going to be special in March, we’ve got to take care of business now.”
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