Rick Pitino knows that conference wins are going to be hard to come by this season. From the top to the bottom of the ACC, most teams can beat anyone on any given night. Eleven of the fifteen ACC teams finished non-conference play with three losses or less and every team finished with a winning record.
The 18th ranked Louisville Cardinals found out just how tough conference play will be in its 65 – 57 ACC opening win over Wake Forest in the KFC Yum Center in from of 21,302 fans.
Donovan Mitchell led the way for U of L with a career-high 18 points and 8 rebounds. Mitchell started in place of the injured Trey Lewis and played like a veteran, hustling to loose balls, grabbing offensive rebounds, and hitting two clutch free throws to help seal the game. His only flaw tonight, according to Pitino, was holding his finger up for a lob way to early. Trey Lewis proceeded to throw the ball way over Mitchell’s head for a turnover.
Lewis was a surprise to even play in the game after suffering a badly sprained ankle earlier in the week. He showed his toughness by playing 22 minutes and finishing with nine points.
This was the lowest scoring game of the season for U of L, but they stepped up their game on defense, in particular, the half court. The Cardinals held Wake Forest to three shot clock violations and many shots taken with time running out. Their switching from man-to-man to zone had the Demon Deacons confused throughout the game.
Chinanu Onuaku was a big reason the Cardinals looked solid on defense. Onuaku blocked four shots and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with his 12 points. More importantly was the fact that he played 37 minutes. It was his first game of the season playing more than 30 minutes.
Wake Forest made it interesting in the second half as they tied the game at 56 after freshman Bryant Crawford made a deep three pointer from the wing. Crawford, who was recruited by Louisville, turned to the crowd and put his hand to his lips as if to silence the crowd. He probably should not have done that as later in the game with 23 seconds remaining he missed three free throws that would have pulled his team to within three.
Damion Lee, the Cardinals’ leading scorer, was held to only 12 points. He struggled to get going offensively, taking only one shot in the first half. The thing that bothered Pitino the most about Lee’s game is that he seemed to force the issue and did not do a good enough job at getting his teammates involved.
Pitino had this to say about his leading scorer, “So we learned an awful lot and I told Damion (Lee), I said, ‘Look Damion, if you were on the other team, I would choreograph all our defenses to stop you,’ and he didn’t understand that. It is like Michael Jordan playing a basketball game, he never showed them all his stuff in the first quarter. He got all the other guys the ball and then became an assassin in the second, third and fourth quarter. He (Lee) was trying too hard and he has got to learn that, I thought he learned that from Puerto Rico when he scored 30 points the one night. Then the guys all came up to me, the national team, and said, Angel Vassallo said, ‘I got him tonight and then Richard Chaney said, ‘I got him when you come out of the game.’ I don’t think he scored about four points in the game, I said (To Lee), ‘you already learned that from Puerto Rico, you have got to move out the basketball and get other guys shots in order to open it up for you.”
Devin Thomas, who dominated the Cardinals in last season’s loss with 31 points, was held to 14.
Crawford finished with 14 as well for the Demon Deacons.
Next up for the Cardinals is a trip on Thursday to face North Carolina State. The Wolfpack are 10 – 3 on the season.