Louisville over Minnesota at Pitino family reunion

ESPN gets its wish again, this time pitting Rick Pitino against son Richard on the opening night of the 2014-15 college basketball season, with the University of Louisville prevailing over Minnesota 81-68 in the Armed Forces Classic in Puerto Rico.

The elder Pitino happy with the win, but disappointed his son’s team loses its season opener. “I would rather have not played it, because my son lost,” he says afterward. Coaches never say no to ESPN, however, so a sequel is not out of the question, pending results of the TV ratings which have to be through the roof.

Happier time before the slugfest.
Happier time before the slugfest.

While feeling sorry for junior, Rick had to be pleased with his team’s performance, responding again and again to Minnesota comebacks, and a defense closely resembling his own team’s, a taste of what it’s like to play against a selfish, aggressive and unyielding defense. A foul-plagued game testing the depth and readiness of second-line players, resembling a mid-season game with super intensity levels.

Rick said two weeks ago UofL had to get up to speed quickly and his players obviously bought in, unleashing a no-holds-barred defense that refused to wilt, keeping the Cardinals in the game early, giving them some breathing room at the half. Not allowing the Gophers any uncontested shots or easy baskets during the final 20 minutes.

— Montrezl Harrell just a beast, barking out orders to his teammates while showcasing all the advances in his game. Hitting nine of 12 shots from the field, including three of four three-point attempts and nine of 10 free throw attempts for 30 points. Somehow avoiding the whistles and collecting only two personal fouls. Taking the role of captain seriously, constantly mentoring some teammates while leading by example.

— Terry Rozier displaying an array of shots around the basket that would have Russ Smith shaking his head. Out of the shadow a season later, blazing his own trails to the basket, in, around and through some mystified and frustrated defenders. Making seven of 11 shots from the field, four of six from the free throw line for 18 points, while chalking up four assists and four steals.

— Chris Jones assuming the ceaseless Andre McGee approach on defense, relentlessly challenging every dribble and pass. All the activity taking a toll on him on the offensive end, making four of 13 attempts from the field but four of four from the free throw line.

–Wayne Blackshear with a long night but on the floor for only 20 minutes after collecting three fouls in the first half. That familiar feeling back again, watching lots of critical action from the bench. Managing seven points on a three pointer and four of five from the three-point line.

— Chinanu Onuaku still growing up, getting stronger, clogging up the middle, getting in his own way much of time, fouling out in eight minutes with three rebounds, an assist and a turnover. Probably surprised to be named the starting center, surprised at the speed and ferocity of the college game. He will get there.

— David Levitch has come a long way, keeping the ball moving around the perimeter,protecting the ball with no awkward turnovers, sinking three of four free-throw attempts. A coach’s son playing like a coach’s son, relishing his early playing time, but somehow collecting four fouls, even a flagrant. Something more to work on.

A promising start for the University of Louisville, embracing an early challenge, providing a glimpse of what this team can become with the continued improvement that always comes with Rick Pitino teams.

Another life lesson for Richard from his Hall of Fame father, one he will use to his advantage. Probably not the last game between the Pitinos.

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Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.