BOZICH | Louisville plays ego-less basketball for Padgett, defeating Kentucky Wesleyan, 101-64
With balanced scoring and crisp passing, Louisville won its first exhibition game Monday night, dispatching Kentucky Wesleyan at the KFC Yum! Center.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Finally, just basketball at the University of Louisville.
Not studying the fine print of contracts. Or counting critical adjectives in a termination letter. Or closed-door board meetings by suits.
Just basketball Monday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
Mark this score – Louisville 101, Kentucky Wesleyan 64 -- on the game ball. Hand it to interim coach David Padgett as recognition of his first exhibition game victory.
Give credit to Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Deng Adel and the other Louisville veterans. They played without ego and made at least 35 of the 40 minutes stress-free for Padgett in his first game as a head coach.
"I was nervous," Padgett said. "I'm not going to lie."
Padgett's players were also not going to fib after the game. They were determined to play like a solidly coached team because they understood that the 14,818 paying customers and everybody else who follows the program would be watching and evaluating how this team looked measured against the 16 teams coached by the departed Rick Pitino at U of L.
“That’s normal," Mahmoud said. "I’m assuming a lot of people were trying today to see how different we would look than the last couple years, which is completely predictable. We knew that coming into the game. We played with a chip on our shoulder."
“For the guys who have been here for at least a year, in the back of our minds it was that we wanted to do this for him because he’s an incredible guy," said Ryan McMahon, the Cards' injured guard.
"He’s an incredible coach that we all have a great relationship with. That’s why we wanted him as our coach. And we want him to continue to be our coach if Coach P can’t be our coach."
The Louisville veterans gave Padgett no reason to stay nervous. His team looked the way a team is supposed to look when it has been coached to play the game without ego. It was basketball played the way any veteran coach would appreciate – with the extra pass, with consistent ball pressure, with sensible shot selection, with energetic transition from offense to defense.
"They really understand, for a team that's only been together for a few weeks, that the more you pass the ball, the more you get it in return," Padgett said.
Don’t forget the Cards’ relaxed and accurate three-point shooting. They made five of their first seven from distance and finished the night outscoring the visitors 21-3 from the three-point line.
Five players scored in double figures, led by Mahmoud, who made 10 of 11 field-goal attempts, leading the Cardinals with 20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 7 blocks.
The Cards won by 37, one less point than their margin against Wesleyan last season.
You want something to question? Doesn’t every coach?
There was some of that. There always is. For Louisville it was primarily the defense in the first half. The Panthers made an absurd 60.7 of their shots in the opening 20 minutes, including 30 of their 35 points in the paint.
When Wesleyan scored on four consecutive possessions late in the first half, Padgett walked on the floor demanding a 30-second timeout. The Cards increased their defensive intensity on Wesleyan’s next possession, forcing the visitors to burn 28 seconds of the shot clock, nearly forcing a turnover and stopping the run.
"We kind of got in a rut where we tried to outscore them," Padgett said. "That's not who we are ... I got on the older guys a little bit at halftime. They knew it was coming."
"That's not how we play," Mahmoud said.
Things changed. Wesleyan made 9 of 33 attempts in the second half. That's 27.3 percent, tolerable for any coach, even one in his first game.
Offensively, turnovers were an issue (10 in the first half, 16 for the night), but it’s only the first exhibition. The way Padgett’s guys shared the basketball was more telling than a bit of errant passing and careless ball-handling.
One visitor to practice told me several weeks ago that he was concerned that without Rick Pitino on the scene some veteran players would be hunting shots, trying to upgrade their NBA profiles.
I saw no evidence of that. The Cards’ generated assists on six of their first eight field goal attempts, assists earned by four different players. They played through the post, entering the ball from the wing. Guards fed centers from the wing, centers fed forwards from the top of the lane. The ball moved. Louisville finished with 22 assists on its 41 field goals. Against Wesleyan last season, the numbers were 21 assists on 39 field goals.
Credit Snider with five assists and 10 points, Adel with 12 points and Spalding with 15 points and seven boards.
"The most important thing to me is the way we shared the ball," Padgett said.
Padgett even delivered a surprise with his first-half playing rotation. The Louisville starters were as expected – Mahmoud, Ray Spalding and Deng Adel in the frontcourt with Quentin Snider and V.J. King handling the guard positions.
The first sub was as expected – a veteran, Dwayne Sutton, who sat out last season after his transfer from North Carolina-Asheville. Sutton performed as if he belonged, making three shots from distance and leading the Cardinals with 11 points in the first half. He finished with 13.
The second sub was also no surprise – freshman forward Malik Williams.
Then Padgett got creative, playing Jo Griffin, the freshman walk-on from South Oldham High School over top backcourt recruit Darius Perry. Padgett said it was a reward for Griffin’s solid play in the second Red/White scrimmage.
Perry did not pout. He entered with crackling confidence, making a three-pointer from the left wing less than a minute after he entered.
It was that kind of opening night for David Padgett and his team, who will play their second exhibition Nov. 7 against Bellarmine.
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