With the annual in-state rivalry game with Kentucky on the horizon, coaches and fans alike worry about overlooking an opponent and looking ahead. That was not the case Wednesday night as Louisville controlled the game from the tip and cruised to a 98 – 68 victory over Utah Valley in the final game of the annual Billy Minardi Classic.
“Brilliant offense” and “subpar defense” were the words Rick Pitino used to describe his team’s play.
Louisville once again eclipsed the 50 percent mark finishing at 55.4 percent from the field. Passing has also been their staple early on as they finished with 19 assists on 31 made baskets.
The defense still has to catch up to the offense especially with the step up in competition. According to Pitino, too many players are getting beat off of the dribble and either leading to easy attempts or foul trouble. This could pose a big threat against Kentucky who is a dribble-drive team.
The guard play once again was solid and balanced. The starting backcourt of Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider was fantastic. Lewis led all scorers with 21. He also grabbed a game-high seven rebounds and dished out two assists. Snider continues to impress, finishing with 15 points and four assists.
Damion Lee struggled shooting the ball, but did finish with 11 points on 2 of 8 shooting from the field. Louisville has been hampered with injuries, but Anas Mahmoud returned to the lineup and finished with only two points, but did block four shots. Just as Deng Adel looked tired one night earlier, Mahmoud looked the same early on as he struggled to get anything going offensively and defensively.
Adel, playing in only his second game in a month looked slow once again and not yet in game shape. He will be important going forward especially if Lee gets in foul trouble.
The bench has been more and more consistent each night led by Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson. Mitchell hit a trio of three pointers to finish with nine points. Johnson continues to improve. He finished with eight points and six rebounds.
Utah Valley, coached by former Kentucky player Mark Pope, struggled from the start. They simply could not match Louisville’s size, pressure, or athleticism. However, Pope was pleased with their effort against the Cardinals.
Now the real season begins. Saturday’s game against Kentucky will be the last non-conference game before the ACC regular season begins. A win against a high profile opponent on the road and a rivalry victory will go far to shape the confidence of this Louisville team.
Most would have believed that Kentucky would win this game at the beginning of the season and that Louisville didn’t stand much of a chance. That sentiment has changed and many U of K fans are a little nervous about Saturday and many U of L fans are now pretty excited about the opportunity.
The game cannot come soon enough. The goosebumps are all over my arms and the heart rate is a little higher in anticipation of this matchup. Many questions will be answered Saturday. Will Louisville be able to control the dribble-drive of Kentucky? Will Louisville continue its offensive brilliance with the step-up in competition? Can Kentucky hit shots against Louisville’s matchup zone? How hard will Kentucky fans be on Louisville in the wake of the scandal? These questions will be answered in just a few short days.
My prediction is Louisville winning 74 – 68.