It has been a soul-searching past several days for the No. 5 ranked University of Louisville basketball team. How would they respond after their 58 – 50 loss to top-ranked in-state rival Kentucky? Would a new starting lineup help propel the team along? Would the team get out of its offensive rut or continue being, as Rick
Pitino called them after the Kentucky game, “offensively challenged”?
Pitino decided to start freshman Anas Mahmoud and Shaqquan Aaron in place of Chinanu Onuaku and Chris Jones. Mahmoud started off strong for the Cardinals, scoring the first four points of the game, one of which was a nice jumper from 15 feet.
Mahmoud’s biggest impact came on the defensive end as he blocked two shots and altered several others making the Long Beach State players think twice about coming in the lane. Pitino was asked about starting Mahmoud and said, “I don’t think we have been getting anything out of our five spot and we tried playing him when we simulated Kentucky and he kept getting pushed out of bounds. We knew Kentucky, Duke, and maybe two or three other opponents are not for him. But we are hopeful we can get some more strength on him. We are hoping by the 15th we can get him up to 210 (pounds) and then up to 215 and then at least he can hold his own but he is the best passer, shot blocker, shooter that we have. It is just that he is very weak. It is Gorgui (Dieng) as a freshman, now I do believe he will become one of the more talented big guys I have coached, it is just that he is weak.”
Shaqquan Aaron struggled in his first start of his young career. Aaron failed to score in only five minutes of action. However, it was another freshman that helped lift the Cardinals. Quentin Snider came off of the bench to give the Cardinals a much-needed spark. Snider connected on two threes and finished with six points and two assists in 26 minutes. He also helped team up for the play of the game late in the first half when he grabbed the ball off of Mahmoud’s block dribbled down the floor and flipped threw a lob to Montrezl Harrell for a monster dunk. This was all part of a 15 – 0 run to put the Cardinals up 34 – 19 at the half.
Aaron will be looked upon to help Louisville as they start ACC play, but it may take some time according to Pitino. Pitino explained it this way, “You have heard the expression about one weak link on a chain, the fence falls apart. We have eight open links, eight guys that don’t understand what we do. We have four that do. So we have to close the links up week by week. Shaqquan is one of the links that doesn’t have a clue. He has never seen all this switching and all this talking and all this, it is foreign to him so he can’t go out there and play like a normal freshman and just get by on a lot of desire. So it is tough on him.”
Chris Jones had started all 12 of Louisville’s games this season, but was held out of the starting lineup for the first time. Many thought it was because of his poor offensive play, but according to Pitino it was not. Pitino had this to say about Jones not starting, “I didn’t start Chris not because of his shooting percentage, I didn’t start him because of the flop issue. I was very upset at that. We don’t do that type of thing and then to fake it with the jaw like he got hit. You can’t fake it, in junior college you do it, but it is on TV and you can’t fake those things and I told him you are not playing because of that incident, that is something Louisville guys don’t do.”
Terry Rozier was the star for the Cardinals finishing with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assist, and a career-high 6 steals. Rozier’s shot was falling from the outside as well. He hit three of his seven three-point attempts. It was a great all-around game for Rozier coming off of a 5 for 18 performance against Kentucky.
Montrezl Harrell finished with 16 points, but grabbed only three rebounds in 35 minutes. Harrell has struggled the past two games after coming off of a one game suspension for fighting against Western Kentucky. Pitino said, He’s in, right now, a little bit of a drought for him, but I think that suspension bothered him a little bit and it knocked him out of whack a little bit.”
Long Beach State finished a brutal five game road stretch in which the played in order – San Diego State, Texas, St. Johns, Syracuse, and then Louisville. They lost all five, but played tough in several of them losing by one to San Diego State, ten to Texas, and keeping the game close in Louisville before losing by 15.
Coach Dan Monson spoke about the tough non-conference schedule saying, “We know what we need to work on now. We play these teams and they show us our deficiencies. We’ve got to be a better ball-handling team.”
Louisville finished the non-conference portion of its schedule at 12 and 1. They now get prepared to face a very difficult ACC schedule. The Cardinals will travel to Wake Forest Sunday for their first official ACC game.
*Louisville shot over 50 percent from the field for only the third time this season finishing at 51.2 percent.
*Louisville has improved its shooting from the free-throw line over the last four games, connecting on 86-of-110 for a 78.2 percent clip.