Pitino taking notes during Louisville’s romp over Samford

Just a nice, easy 80-54 win over Samford in one of those early season learning sessions for the University of Louisville basketball team. A far cry from the edge-of-the-seat games in which they will soon be immersed.

The only person really getting worked up is Rick Pitino as he experiments with varieties of player combinations, some players needing encouragement, others needing experience,  some requiring extra attention.

  • Inserting Wayne Blackshear into the starting lineup, Blackshear responding, playing more assertively, with the confidence and poise befitting his credentials. He will  contribute 13 points, five rebounds and two steals. Some day soon, the switch will turn on again for Blackshear and there will be no stopping him.
  • Luke Hancock
  • Keeping the pressure on Luke Hancock, expecting him to shoot three-point shots no matter how of them he misses. Hancock allowing the pressure to get to him for now during the gimmes. He may one of those players who requires serious competition to excel. Maybe that’s what Pitino sees in him.
  • Giving Zach Price six minutes of playing time, probably the most since he arrived at UofL, Price getting aggressive on defense for a change, costing him three personal fouls during his limited time on court.
  • Allowing Kevin Ware to become more familiar with the offense, giving the youngster time to learn the offense while usurping natural skills. Ware making lay ups when spectacular dunks were an option, knowing Pitino is taking notes.
  • Returning Chane Behanan to the starting lineup, observing that Montrezl Harrell isn’t sulking. Behanan responding with 18 rebounds and 12 points. Harrell  not taking anything personally, knowing he’s more than capable when Pitino looks his way.

Louisville outside looking in during NBA draft

The disparity so obvious to the professionals, eager to make numerous former University of Kentucky players millionaires overnight.

Six Uk basketball players picked during the first and second rounds of the NBA draft, including the No. 1 and No. 2 selections overall.

Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith of Louisville still waiting in the wings thus far.

The talent level considered so superior, making one wonder how U of L managed to stay close during seven and eight-point during two losses to Kentucky this past season, the outcomes of both games in doubt until around the six-minute marks.

One must conclude that Rick Pitino is a genius at getting players to compete beyond their natural abilities. That’s especially true on defense, which is the only logical rationale for how his most recent U of L team made it to a Final Four appearance.

Give him some shooters, like say a healthy Wayne Blackshear, transfers Luke Hancock and  Montrezl Harrell, and another year of development for Angel Nunez. Stronger and more seasoned versions of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan. More time with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.

Keep them healthy.  Maturity and confidence will be apparent on both ends of the court. Watch the master motivator do what he does best.

Draft picks or no draft picks.

Pitino’s options for significant change are limited

Significant change is in store for the University of Louisville basketball team, according to Rick Pitino, on his Thursday radio show.

One has to question the timing, thinking maybe a week ago might have been a better time to introduce change. After all, U of L is headed to New York this weekend for a second game against Syracuse, only the second-ranked team in the nation.

Pitino has won seven of the last eight games against Jim Boeheim, lost by only one point two weeks ago. If he makes good on his promise, he’s making a big gamble in a final regular season game.

The only explanation forthcoming was that Pitino told Wayne Blackshear to either get used to getting banged around or to forget this season altogether. The coach said Blackshear responded with his best practice since arriving in Louisville.

Even if Blackshear does play more, that doesn’t constitute significant change. Blackshear could have a great game and no one would be shocked.

What would meet that criteria would be someone like Elisha Justice starting in place of Peyton Siva at the point guard position. Justice is probably a better shooter, and he wouldn’t make some the same mistakes that have plagued Siva.

Surely not Kevin Ware starting. But he could be seeing more playing time, as could Angel Nunez.

There are only so many bodies to go around so his options for making really significant change are pretty limited.

Louisville ekes past Pitt in Sunday napper

One defensive struggle after another these days, each team knowing what the opposition is attempting every trip down court.

Four and a half minutes into the game the University of Louisville basketball team is scoreless, the Peyton Siva drives being turned back time after time. A block here, a travel there, U of L struggling mightily to get on the board.

Until Siva finally finds an open Kyle Kuric. No time to think. Nothing but net, his three-point shooting slump a one-game aberration. Still in sleep walk mode, however, U of L behind 10-8 at the 10:42 mark. Time for Russ Smith to check in, quickly responding with a layup, the game is on. Finally.

Somewhere along the way, the quickness and speed associated with Louisville basketball has given way to a snail’s pace. Rick Pitino admitting after the game that U of L is not pushing the ball, not getting into its offense quickly enough, becoming too predictable. Remember the idea of getting the ball past half court in less than three seconds? Hasn’t been happening. Pitino ball a distant memory.

Pitino coming close to apologizing after the game for Wayne Blackshear not knowing the offense, unaware what his team is trying to accomplish offensively. One wonders, however, if the offense plan isn’t a little too predictable. Makes one wonder whether Blackshear could create more opportunities doing what comes naturally.

Russ Smith has been fingered as another player who doesn’t quite get it. Only with his unpredictability does the Pitino offensive set work for him, often on broken plays. Something to be said for free lancing when nothing else is working.

Giving Blackshear more playing time might be a good start, giving him the freedom to make mistakes, learning from them, maybe obtaining a comfort level. Those quick trips back and forth to the bench bewildering. Allowing him to stagnate is not an option.

Take the 57-54 win and the credit, coach. But the offense needs a lift.

Louisville delivers the pain in Morgantown

One knows going into Morgantown the game will be a cliffhanger, hoping the outcome won’t be decided on another controversial call.

Of course, any call going against West Virginia will draw the ire of Bobby Huggins. So much so that he was spending more time hounding officials in the closing seconds than focusing on his team’s needs. Go ahead, Bobby, get it off your chest. The University of Louisville will take the 77-74 win.

Now we know why Rick Pitino has been contradicting himself about Wayne Blackshear’s status. While his unending pronouncements are maddening to U of L fans, he knows opposing coaches are also listening to every word. Blackshear was not in Huggins’ game notes.

  • No player, no one, comes into a game looking that good after missing three and a half months of practice. Too much to hope for, doesn’t happen like that, never. ever. But there he was, Blackshear a totally different player from the one with zero points in 15 minutes in an exhibition game against Pikeville in October.  Good for 15, including three three’s, four rebounds. No sense of a one-game phenomena either, so businesslike.
  • Huggie had to know about Russ Smith. Not that that worked in Huggie’s favor, given the unpredictable nature of Russ. Sticking to the West Virginia guards like a mosquito on defense, zipping through miniscule openings on offense, those unorthodox shots the norm for him, adding up to 16 points.
  • Kyle Kuric, minimized by West Virginia biggies around the board, one rebound in 25 minutes, but those four three-pointers keeping his team relevant. HIs 19-footer with 16:15, pulling U of L within eight, 53-45, the beginning of the comeback, the desperate run. His steal with eight seconds preventing a disaster. Two free throws with six seconds all but slamming the door.
  • Peyton Siva like a surgeon weaving his way through the WVU defense early on, finding shooters often enough to get U of L out of the gate, four assists in the first half. Most of them before the Turk eruption and the West Virginia spurt. Four fouls, three turnovers, but not derailing anything in the process.
  • Chris Smith continuing his steady production, making three of five three-point attempts, totaling 13 points. Those two free throws at the 1:39 mark oh so critical.
  • Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan more than a little banged up by Deniz Kilicli, the Mountain in Mountaineers, the Angry Turk helping the U of L cause throwing ball in the air to collect a technical and a third foul. If Kilicli doesn’t go pro, he’s a natural for becoming a permanent West Virginia mascot, the look, the beard, just needs the long rifle and the chaps.

The other passionate fan in the house keeps saying over and over again she can’t believe U of L won that game, and she’s right. Still hard to believe. Heart is finally beating normal again. No sweeter place to win one than in Morgantown.