CRAWFORD | Just like old times, 5 takeaways from Louisville's sh - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Just like old times, 5 takeaways from Louisville's shutdown of Pittsburgh

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — They should’ve worn throw-back uniforms. Thursday’s late-night Louisville-Pittsburgh matchup in the KFC Yum! Center was old-school Big East — physical, low-scoring and intense.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, they dialed up some old-school defense to lock up the Panthers for much of the game, and a dose of second-half offense sent them on their way to a 59-41 victory, easily their best victory of the season.

It’s not often you see a basketball team held to half of its scoring average. But that was the case for Pitt, which came into the game the No. 9 scoring team in the nation at 85.3 points per game, but scored fewer than 30 points in each half to suffer its second defeat of the season.

It wasn’t pretty, unless you’re a big fan of defense. And Louisville coach Rick Pitino is.

“I feel like my long-lost best friend came back tonight,” Pitino said. “I’ve been waiting for a long time to see defense like that.”

The Cardinals played their usual switching defense, from zone to man-to-man, but primarily were in man-to-man played very good help defense, and got back to the pesky, menacing, deflection-based style that has led them to success in the past three seasons. The Cardinals grabbed 10 steals and forced more turnovers (19) than Pittsburgh had made baskets (14).

“We kept taking guarded shots, but we were the team that did that tonight,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play tonight they way we have been. It happens.”

Coming into the game, Louisville ranked 12th national in field goal percentage and Pittsburgh 13th. But the Cards led just 20-17 at half before shooting 63.2 percent (12 of 19) in the second half. Both teams were 1-for-11 from three-point range.

Some takeaways:

1. ONUAKU HAS ANOTHER MVP EFFORT. Perhaps the best thing Onuaku did won’t show up on his stat line, but he repeatedly rotated over to close the middle on defense, causing Pittsburgh no end of headaches trying to get easy points in the paint. Otherwise, he was really good, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and perhaps best of all, 4 of 5 from the free-throw line.

“We didn’t anticipate him getting 18 points,” Dixon's said. “He did have the six turnovers, but give him credit. He made the shots, he’s put in a lot of hard work. He’s a good kid, very good player, everybody in the country wanted him.”

Said Pitino: “If he can play 33 minutes a game, we’re tough to beat. And once Mangok (Mathiang) comes back, then he can get back down to 26-27.”

2. CARDS RESPONDED TO PHYSICAL — AND PSYCHOLOGICAL — CHALLENGE. Louisville lost its head on a bad shooting night at Clemson. This night, in many ways, was just as bad. The Cardinals were just 1 of 11 from three-point range, but they didn’t panic. They stuck with their defense, and waited for their run, which came midway through the first half, and again early in the second half. Pittsburgh shot just 28.6 percent in the game, and despite shooting nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line, No. 1 in the nation coming into the game, they made just 12 of 20 (60 percent) from the line. Louisville went 16 of 19 (84.2 percent).

“I didn’t yell at them after the loss,” Pitino said. “But I told them, if your identity is to outshoot them, you’ll make the tournament, but you won’t get past the first weekend.”

3. THE SLUMP CONTINUED FOR LEWIS AND LEE. The Cardinals’ graduate transfers couldn’t buy much of anything — but they didn’t go crazy trying to force shots, and both played far better defense than they did Sunday at Clemson. And late in the game, Lee found his spots, took the ball strong the basket to get fouled, and wound up as the Cards’ co-leading scorer with 18 points, helped in large part by going 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.

“We’re a good shooting team, we’ve just to got to get used to playing good defense and shooting the ball,” Pitino said. “We make shots in practice. . . . I’m not worried at all about Trey and Damion. But that was a beautiful defensive game. If we can play like that going forward, we’re going to be a tough team at the end of the season. . . . The guys saw what it could do tonight. I think they’re encouraged by it. And I think they’ll draw some energy from it.”

4. KEY STATS: The Cardinals outscored Pittsburgh 21-9 on second-chance points, and 34-20 on points in the paint. They blocked six shots and dished out 11 assists to only four for Pitt.

5. PITINO’S PIT STOP. Pitino left the bench during a second-have media timeout, pulled off his jacket and sprinted up the tunnel. Turned out, he just had some intestinal issues. Asked if it had happened to him before, he said, “About 30 times in my career.”

“I can’t eat game day,” Pitino said. “And think about that, in the pros, you coach 100 games. So these 9 o’clock games kill me, and I made a mistake. I ate something. Can’t do that.”

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