CRAWFORD | Mahmoud on the move: Big man leads Louisville past Du - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Mahmoud on the move: Big man leads Louisville past Duke

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The day began like most others for Louisville 7-foot junior Anas Mahmoud — though he said he felt a little more tired than usual as he started getting ready for Saturday’s noon tipoff against Duke.

After leading the Cardinals with career highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds in a 78-69 win, he said, “I hope I wake up tired every morning.”

Certainly, fewer people around the Atlantic Coast Conference are sleeping on Mahmoud. Jay Bilas, Dan Dakich and other ESPN commentators have praised his game, and Pitino was right in line with them after his performance on Saturday.

Mahmoud made his fifth straight start on Saturday, but said his first few minutes on the court didn’t give him the feeling anything special was about to happen.

“I usually (measure it) by blocking shots,” he said. “The first possession if i’m there blocking shots and on time, I know I’m focused in. I didn’t block as many shots today. I only had one. But I deflected a lot of balls.”

And he helped in other ways. He was good enough on defense, and in the first half, he carried the Cardinals, who struggled when Duke broke a season-long tendency in how it defended the pick-and-roll.

The Blue Devils have “downed” the pick-and-roll all season. Against the Cardinals, they came out blitzing the ball-handler on screens. At halftime, Pitino had to throw away his offensive game plan. He told his players they could still run pick-and-rolls, but that they needed passing and motion before getting into them.

With the Cardinals struggling before that change, Mahmoud realized Duke was blitzing and reacted by cutting hard to the basket, twice getting lobs for dunks on his way to a team-best 13 points in the half.

“He was very good,” Pitino said. “He's still not grabbing the loose rebounds that are up there, but that's a strength issue. He's just going to keep getting better and better.”

Duke’s acting coach, Jeff Capel, said, “Their big kid, Mahmoud, was terrific today, having a double-double … the plays he made -- protecting their basket. . . . I would venture to say that this is the best game Mahmoud has played.”

Mahmoud ranks 30th in the nation in blocked shots, and he’s active with his hands, getting deflections and steals.

But he’s improving offensively. Pitino has praised the work assistant coach David Padgett has done with Mahmoud, working with him on his court vision and passing. But Mahmoud’s offensive instincts are good.

According to Synergy Stats, he scores on 75 percent of his shots around the basket that aren’t on post-up plays, and on 67 percent of his post-ups.

“Every time I get the ball in the post I know one of two things is going to happen,” Mahmoud said. “Either they’re going to trap or come dig, which means one of my teammates is going to be open, or I’m going to, 80 percent of the time, get my shot off. And I trust myself enough that I think I can make 70 percent of my shots. So when I catch the ball, the first thing that comes to my mind is go score. If I can’t, I know my teammates are open.”

Mahmoud was a four-star recruit coming into Louisville, and ESPN rated him among its top 100 players in the nation in 2014. But nobody would’ve picked him to be the best post player in a game that featured Harry Giles (No. 1 power forward in the 2016 class), Jayson Tatum (No. 2 small forward), Marques Bolden (No. 2 center) and Chase Jeter (No. 4 center in 2015).

There were 16 NBA scouts in the building Saturday, most of them weren’t there to see Mahmoud. But he outplayed a group of guys who are far more hyped. He said he gets up for those kinds of matchups, but doesn’t put much stock in what they mean.

“Those guys have a lot of talent on their team,” Mahmoud said. “It’s just not for me, it’s for every one of us that we’ve got to show everybody in the nation that we’re not less than anybody else. We’re as talented and athletic and as good of basketball players as anybody else.”

If it sounds like Mahmoud keeps gaining confidence, you’re not hearing wrong.

“It was a fun game. I had fun playing out there,” he said. “It was awesome for me. It’s not confidence for myself because I know what I can do by myself. But it’s confidence for my teammates to trust me and for Coach P to trust me in crucial times that he’ll know that I’ll be there for him. That’s all I want is to just be there and help them win and help the team.”

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