CRAWFORD | Five thoughts on Louisville's season-opening exhibiti - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Five thoughts on Louisville's season-opening exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Maybe you’ve had nights like this one. I watched the University of Louisville’s exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan on Thursday night — I just have no strong conviction about what I saw.

I’m going to blame staying up too late watching the World Series on Wednesday night. Or not yet being shifted out of football mode. Or maybe it’s this election. Yeah, that’s it. Thanks, Obama. Wait a minute. It’s not his fault.Louisville beat Kentucky Wesleyan 109-71. It started well and ended well. The middle left some questions. That’s probably the best way to sum it up.

In the first seven minutes, the Cardinals dished out five assists and raced to a 26-11 lead. Then they had five assists over the next 15 minutes of game time, and their first-half 20-point lead never grew.

It wasn’t until Ryan McMahon gave them some instant offense in the second half that the offense started flowing again.

So the following are some loosely collected thoughts, probably not yet fully formed, on a new-look Cardinal basketball team.

1). THE SHOOTING REALLY IS BETTER. After two scrimmages and now an exhibition, Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel all have improved their perimeter shooting in a noticeable way. Snider has been incredibly accurate.

The Cardinals shot 60 percent from the field Thursday. They got easy looks in the post. They got easy looks on the break. They made 9 of 17 from three-point range (52.9 percent), and went 6 of 9 in the second half.

The post players, Jaylen Johnson, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud, looked more confident in their ability to convert around the basket, and those three players went a combined 13-19.

“We outmatched the competition tonight,” Pitino said of the shooting when I asked him. But he also noted the work that Mitchell and Snider have put in on their shooting.

2). THE TEMPO. Pitino says he wants it sped up, and it is speeding up. Louisville averaged roughly 69 possessions per game a year ago. On Thursday night, they pushed that to 81 possessions. I’m not sure what that would equate to once adjusted, but it would’ve led the nation a year ago if the Cards could’ve managed to keep it up.

And Louisville did that without creating an unusual number of turnovers with its full-court pressure or half-court man-to-man (KWC had 20). The Cards led points off turnovers 29-12.

It goes without saying, you shoot 60 percent, limit your own turnovers and create that many possessions — it’s no surprise the Cards were able to put 109 points on the board.

“That's the way we're going to play this year,” Pitino said. “. . . We'd like to cross half-court in three seconds. . . . The recognition was really, really good tonight, and that's good. If we can get our defense going here, I think we're going to be really tough.”

3). MATHIANG’S RETURN. He hasn’t played any basketball, with the exception of some pick-up games, when he reinjured his fractured foot, since last December. But he didn’t show much rust.

“It was great having Mangok back on the court,” Deng Adel said. “It was really fun in practice. He’s always talking and getting guys going. He’s a vocal leader, and a great defensive presence for us.”

Mathiang played 13 minutes scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds.

“I felt pretty good, even in practice,” Mathiang said. “I started practice and went a full hour and felt fine.”

Pitino said he’s ahead of schedule.

“We'll give him off tomorrow just to rest a little bit, but he's going to be ready,” he said. “He’ll be ready for Evansville. It surprised me that he's this ready because we are very cautious with him and very surprised that he's come along, in the last two weeks, as quick as has, but we're going to treat him with kid gloves a little bit because we have Anas. We have Matz (Stockman), so we'll just take our time with him.”

4). RYAN McMAHON. SECRET WEAPON. He played only nine minutes, but was a catalyst for the Cardinals. He scored 14 points in that span, making four of five shots and three of four from three-point range. He also was active on defense, picking up a couple of deflections.

When McMahon came into the game the Cards led by 17. When he left they were up 28.

“I thought Ryan McMahon came in and did a lot of good things defensively for the first time,” Pitino said. “We know he can shoot, and he gave us a big lift because he had two back tips, he can play defense well, he obviously made the shots and that's when it went from 20 to a blowout because of his efforts.”

5). THE DEFENSE. It is different. Pitino wants a switching, half-court man-to-man defense, mixing with several presses and occasional 2-3 zone.

What the Cards haven’t learned yet are the principles for containing ballhandlers. KWC was able to get to the rim in some stretches.

“Defensively we have a long way to go,” Pitino said. “We did a good job on our presses . . .  But the defense has to get a lot better. . . We made second and third rotations, but when you are jumping around as much as us you have to make fourth and fifth rotations, and we didn't do that as well.”

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