BOZICH | Louisville thumps Evansville; Pitino criticizes Trump
Behind after 11 minutes, Louisville unplugged Evansville's offense and beat the Purple Aces, 78-47, in the Cardinals' season-opening basketball game Friday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This wasn’t supposed to be difficult — and eventually it wasn’t. Louisville won its season opener over Evansville, 78-47, Friday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
In fact, the Cards won so easily that after the game U of L coach Rick Pitino was asked about as many questions about President-elect Donald J. Trump as he was about the Purple Aces. Pitino said that he and Trump are members of the same club in New York.
He jokingly said that Trump needed to proceed like one of his players and surrender his Twitter account. But after saying that he would support the next President, Pitino said that Trump needed to apologize to U.S. Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.) the family of Humayun Khan, the American gold-star soldier killed in Iraq as well as Mexicans, some of the people and groups that Trump was criticized for insulting during the campaign.
"Everybody he insulted, he should apologize to," Pitino said. "(Then) he could start fresh with everybody."
Back to basketball: Evansville had no answers for Louisville’s A) length (10 blocks, one more than the team high last season), B) unrelenting full-court pressure (credit U of L with 10 steals as the visitors made less than 29 percent of their attempts) or C) Jaylen Johnson (who finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, earning a double-double in 24 frisky minutes).
I know what Pitino said about Evansville. That the Purple Aces were tougher than three-day-old pot roast, a team than ranked among the Top 100 in America.
I also know that in a pre-season vote of coaches and media members in the Missouri Valley Conference, Evansville was picked to finish ninth, ahead of only Drake.
What Pitino did not say this week while hyping the visitors was that the Purple Aces are without five of their top six scorers from a team that won 25 games last season (but missed the NIT). And that coach Marty Simmons was forced to start three guys who averaged 2 points per game in 2016 (in part because Simmons' son, Blake, a senior wing, will miss the season after knee surgery).
For about a dozen minutes it appeared that Pitino knew more than MVC coaches and players. Or maybe he knew that his team would need more than 40 minutes to adjust to life without Damion Lee, Trey Lewis and Chinanu Onuaku.
The Cards did not need 40 minutes. They needed 11.
"Well, I think we had the jitters a little bit early in the game, which is normal for an opening game with an inexperienced team," Pitino said. "Really, we played great defense, but we didn't get the loose balls on the ground after playing great defense. So this was a great beginning."
When Jaylen Brown, Evansville’s only returning starter, made a three-pointer with 9:05 left in the first half, the Purple Aces led, 26-20 and Pitino stormed off the bench to demand a timeout.
It was his first timeout of the season — and chances are he won’t call a better one.
Behind 26-20 after 8 1/2 minutes, Louisville outscored the Purple Aces 23-1 to close the first half and 58-21 over the remainder of the game
"We showed tonight we're not backing down," said Donovan Mitchell, the sophomore guard who had 15 points and five rebounds.
Scoring was not difficult for Evansville. It was impossible. No field goals in the final nine minutes as the visitors missed their final 14 shots and turned the ball over six times. The Purple Aces’ scoreless streak stretched another minute into the second half.
Johnson was a force on both ends, making 9 of 11 shots, grabbing seven of his 14 rebounds on the offensive end and blocking three shots. Donovan Mitchell was nearly as effective and disruptive, scoring 15 points with five rebounds and four steals.
There wasn’t much to note in the second half. Pitino started Anas Mahmoud at center, in place of Mangok Mathiang, who started the first half. The rest of the first unit was as expected — Mitchell, Quentin Snider, Deng Adel and Johnson.
Next for Louisville? Home games against William & Mary (Monday 7 p.m.) and Long Beach State (Thursday 4 p.m.) next week.
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