CRAWFORD | Cards have to win ugly in Bahamas, use defense to sto - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cards have to win ugly in Bahamas, use defense to stop ODU 68-62 in OT

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- So far, the 2016-17 basketball season has been a steady orientation into the up-tempo, higher-scoring style Rick Pitino is trying to install with his University of Louisville basketball team.

Wednesday night's Battle 4 Atlantis opener against Old Dominion was a throwback to some of its recent "winning ugly" past. The Cardinals had to win this one with dogged defense, and some gutty offense at the end. Fortunately, they still possess both.

Donovan Mitchell, still smarting from surgery last week to treat an abscess, scored all 17 of his points in the final eight minutes of regulation and overtime to lead the Cardinals to a 68-62 victory.

The game won't win any beauty contests. Louisville, ranked No. 10 in the most recent Associated Press poll, shot only 29.7 percent (19-64). The Cardinals were outrebounded 51-49 and their bench was outscored 15-12. But the Cards showed they haven't forgotten their defensive roots, holding ODU to 37.9 percent shooting while forcing 22 turnovers, in part because of 10 steals.

"We knew that we were going to be in dogfights all year long," Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson told Bob Valvano on the Louisville Radio Network postgame show. "We anticipated them playing us tough after watching film on them. They're 351 out of 351 in total pace, and we knew this was going to be about who could get their pace. Obviously, tonight they got their pace. But, you know, it's a gutsy win for us, a young group coming together. We're proud of how they executed down the stretch. Obviously, there's a lot of learning to do, a lot of weaknesses we want to turn to strengths. But we don't get a lot of time to pout about it."

The Cardinals (4-0) will have to turn around and play Wichita State in a 2:30 game on Thanksgiving Day. Not only did the Shockers beat LSU by 35 in the Battle 4 Atlantis opener, but they did it in a game that tipped off at 2:30 p.m. For TV reasons, Louisville played the late game, and didn't leave the arena till about 12:30 a.m.

Mitchell clearly was slowed by his health issues. He failed to finish on several fast-break opportunities and was clearly showing the frustration of a hard-luck start. He made just one of his first 13 shots. But here's how much confidence Pitino has in him. He called a play designed to get him an open look from three-point range right out of a timeout.

Mitchell made that shot to get himself going, and that in turn breathed some new intensity into the Cardinals, who had gone from seven points up early to five down early in the second half. He put the team on his back down the stretch, despite not feeling well. He wound up with seven steals and seven rebounds.

"You can't make the shots you don't shoot," Johnson said. "We tell the guys all the time, just concentrate on defense and your offense will come. And those seven steals were big. We teach our guys not to force things, and not to worry about the last shot, and he's bought into that and he executed down the stretch."

In overtime, Louisville made 14 of 16 free-throws to pull away. Old Dominion made just 15 of 32 free-throws in the game.

The Cards got 18 points on 4 of 13 shooting from Quentin Snider and 12 points from Mangok Mathiang. Jaylen Johnson had a season-low six points but pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds.

After jumping to an early 7-0 lead, Louisville went six minutes without a score, and struggled offensively for the rest of regulation. The ball movement that had marked the Cardinals first three games wasn't there. Johnson said that, more than anything, accounted for the anemic offense.

"We've been up and down with how we pass the basketball," Johnson said. "If we stay focused on sharing the basketball and making the right pass, that allows us to be very efficient. Tonight we got off to a great start defensively. They're a great defensive team, and we didn't share the ball. We didn't move the ball like we're accustomed to, like we move it every, single day in practice.

". . . But this was a game we had to win on defense. When you play an ODU or Virginia or Wichita State, you're going to have to win on the defensive end, stay focused and get your stops."

They got them, and now will face a  Wichita State team that Johnson described as "ODU times two" in terms of defense.

"We're familiar with them, and we watched a lot of video of them to get ready for this tournament," he said. ". . . Hopefully we'll have some tricks up our sleeve for them."

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