That’s more like the Cardinals we know and respect.
Southern Miss knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten after six games in a 69-38 thrashing by a recommitted University of Louisville basketball team, recovering from its first loss in nine months, bouncing Southern Miss 69-38.
Terry Rozier replacing Chris Jones at guard, Rick Pitino wanting more assist-first, shoot-second thinking on the floor. Someone who will give up the ball to the front line once in a while. Rozier dishing out three assists in 26 minutes, Jones not credited with any during his minutes. Guess who starts the next game.
Jones would contribute in his favorite way, leading all scorers, even Russ, with 18 points, including four three-pointers. Still couldn’t manage any assists in the game and, uncharacteristically, be charged with four turnovers.
Russ Smith, looking for the big men, too, held scoreless in the first half, scared to shoot maybe. Would you believe four assists before his first shot? The good news, as far as Pitino is concerned Smith winding up with six assists. Four steals, too. More impressive to the coach than the 36 points in a losing effort last Sunday.
Wayne Blackshear hitting three of five three-point attempts from the corner, but equally important going to the glass, coming down with five rebounds, making two assists, two steals and zero turnovers. Carry those numbers into a big game, and he will have a made major progress in his development. Takes more than five days of practice though.
Mangok Mathiang, the one everyone wants to be another Gorgui Dieng, getting his first start, making progress with those seven rebounds and three blocks. Stephan Van Treese still running in place, with his uncertainly and awkwardness, needing to remember he’s a senior and needing to play like one.
Chane Behanan, distracted for a couple of days, still having problems with those put backs, having wasted another summer. Best hope he regains old Final Four instead of waiting until the Final Four this time around.
Focused on defense from the start, the Cardinals would force Southern Miss into 23 turnovers, spurting to an 11-0 lead and holding the Golden Eagle to only 13 points in the first half, and allowing them zero the eight minutes into the second half. Maybe Pitino was right about the North Carolina loss being a good thing for his team, returning to earth, playing with effort, respecting the opponent, challenging every dribble, pass and shot.
“The way we played tonight was exactly the way we played last year and I want to continue to do that,” said Pitino.
Maybe. Maybe not. But much better than that sleepy Sunday outing.