Let the games begin! The No. 8 Louisville Cardinals opened the 2014-15 season in the annual Armed Forces Classic in steamy Puerto Rico. The main story of going into the game was all about the father- son matchup between the Pitinos. This was the second matchup between Rick and Richard with the Cardinals easily winning the first one when Richard was with Florida International 2 years ago.
The main story quickly shifted from the father-son coaching matchup to the much improved play of Louisville preseason All-American, Montrezl Harrell. Harrell surprised everyone when he decided to return for his junior season. Scouts loved his energy and his athleticism, but told him he needed to diversify his game to be a consistent player in the professional ranks.
During his first two seasons with the Cardinals he was a one-dimensional player, scoring most of his baskets inside. He was a highlight-reel dunker whose game did not include a mid-range jumper. His inability to hit free throws made him a liability. He made only 47.7 percent of his free throws through his sophomore season. Harrell took the criticism to heart as he lead UofL to an 81-68 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Harrell showed off his new all-around game by scoring a career-high 30 points. He made 3 of 4 three-pointers and also made several mid-range jumpers. He was 9 of 10 from the free throw line. Just for good measure, he also slammed home two alley-oop dunks just to show he hasn’t forgotten that part of his game.
Harrell wasn’t the only star for the Cardinals. The backcourt tandem of Chris Jones and Terry Rozier both played solid all-around games. Fans were waiting to see Rozier take on a more significant role after the loss of Russ Smith. He did not disappoint, finishing with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Jones shooting was off, hitting only 4 of his 13 shots, but his bulldog-type defense was on full display. He hounded the Minnesota guards the entire game. He finished with 3 steals and his aggressive defense wore out the Golden Gopher guards. Senior forward, Wayne Blackshear, showed a more aggressive game in the exhibition season. Pitino has said he wants to see the Wayne Blackshear that was an aggressive high school All-American. He showed more offensive aggressiveness early, but foul trouble hampered him for most of the game. Blackshear scored only 7 points.
Defending NIT champion, Minnesota, fought to stay in the game, but could never get closer than 8 points in the second half. The Louisville defense was just too much for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota shot only 40 percent from the field and made 4 of its 18 three point attempts. They also committed 19 turnovers. Louisville will play its first game at the KFC Yum Center this Monday against the Gamecocks of Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks were lost to Marshall tonight 74-55.