CRAWFORD | Fits and starts: Louisville runs by S. Illinois 74-51 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Fits and starts: Louisville runs by S. Illinois 74-51, but Pitino wants more

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — We’re getting toward that time of year, so I feel this movie reference is acceptable. And, believe me, it’s far preferable to an in-depth analysis of Louisville’s 74-51 win over Southern Illinois before a crowd of 18,894 at the KFC Yum! Center Wednesday night.

I picture Rick Pitino right now as a Clark Griswold-type. Wait! Stay with me. You remember the film “Christmas Vacation,” and the famous scene in which Griswold has covered his house in Christmas lights, but when he makes the electrical connection for his big reveal, nothing happens. Later on, as he’s trying it by himself, his wife flips a switch in the basement and the lights come on in all their glory.

She flips the switch again, and off they go. He’s jamming the extension cords together, shaking them. But the lights go off and on without rhyme or reason. (If you haven’t seen it, feel free to click here. The rest of us will wait for you.)

That moment, with Griswold shaking the extension cord, is Pitino right now with his team’s offense.

The Cardinals are good in 10-minute shifts. They usually start well, and overwhelm teams early. We’ve seen them grab some big leads. Most notably, they opened with a 36-13 lead on Long Beach State and 25-5 on Baylor (before suffering their only loss of the season). They led Purdue 33-19 before that game tightened late.

On Wednesday, they jumped on Southern Illinois 21-4. Then they eased up. They stopped moving the ball, started “hunting shots” in Pitino’s words. By halftime, the lead was down to 11. After making 16 of its first 27 shots (59 percent), they made just 6 of their next 20 (30 percent).

“We’re having a very difficult time putting together a 40-minute game like the first half of Baylor and the first 14 minutes of this game, we were brilliant, and we’re having a tough time sustaining it — especially in our passing department,” Pitino said. “. . . Once you start playing against great basketball teams, you’ve got to be a great passing team. We had eight assists at halftime and we’re shooting 55 percent. Then we have five assists in the second half and we shoot 37 percent. It’s so evident that guys are just looking for their shot and when they get to the point where they’re equally gratified with the pass as they are the shot, then we’ll be a pretty good team. Right now, we’re not doing that. We’re just playing good basketball in segments.”

Those segments were more than enough to put away Southern Illinois. The Salukis came into the game shooting better than 48 percent as a team with five players averaging in double figures. On Wednesday they shot 35.2 percent and had one reach double figures.

“We knew there would be a shock factor, but quite frankly, I thought we got through it pretty good,” SIU coach Barry Hinson said. “We had a chance to get it to single digits before half, but we got it to 11. We actually came into the locker room and felt pretty good in comparison to when we played with Arkansas, and I was kind of encouraged. I thought we did a good job. We had a flurry there where they went on a 13-0 run, but we had four straight turnovers too and I think we might have set an airball record tonight. Their length, obviously, bothered us.”

In looking for answers to his team’s offensive lapses, Pitino spared no one from blame — except, perhaps, guard David Levitch, who he described as the only player on the game who actually enjoys the passing aspect of the game.

Even point guard Quentin Snider, he said, was too worried about finding himself shots instead of just getting the offense moving.

“The way we’re playing, against a good basketball team, you play a Virginia, and you’re going to come away with four points,” Pitino said.

Sophomore wing Deng Adel, who had one of his more productive games with 12 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes, said some of the passing problems stem from youth.

“We make a few shots and get into the flow of the offense and everybody is feeling like they can make whatever they shoot, so you come down and shoot the first look you have, instead of coming down and moving the ball,” he said. “But a great team doesn’t do that when its offense is on a roll. Great teams come down and move the ball, and that’s what we have to do.”

Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 7 points and 3 assists, said, “Guys are trying to make plays. But you come down and you’re fired up and trying to make the big shot instead of getting into the offense, and that’s everybody, including me. So we need to be more disciplined.”

The Cards got 15 points and six rebounds from Mangok Mathiang. Jaylen Johnson added nine points and 10 rebounds. Quetnin Snider had nine points and four assists. The Cardinals outrebounded SIU 43-21 and outscored the Salukis 40-22 in the paint and 22-4 off the bench.

The Cardinals hounded SIU with their length and turned in a defensive performance that will keep them atop the NCAA ratings for defensive efficiency. But Pitino said he doesn’t believe his team is a great defensive team, or any better than he believed it would be to this point.

“I don’t think they’re that good defensively at all, to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t think we’re great at anything. I think we’re good at a lot of things. I don’t think we’re great at anything. We hope to get there though — in a hurry, before the next two weeks.”

Christmas time is coming — and so are games against Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana and Notre Dame, in succession.

And Pitino continues to work so that when he jams the power cord in the extension cord, the lights come on when it matters the most.

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