Given the lack of production from the bench, it is somewhat surprising that the University of Louisville is 19-4 at this juncture in the season. Something has to change. This team is going nowhere in March if it gets nothing from its reserves.
No reserve player has scored in the past two games. Nary a one.
It’s not like Coach Rick Pitino isn’t using them, he is. There were six subs for 33 minutes in the win over Miami and five for 34 minutes in the loss to Virginia. Their totals:
— Three field goal attempts against Miami and four against Virginia, missing all of them.
— No free throw attempts in either game.
— Eight rebounds, four in each game for Mangok Mathiang.
— Two assists, both of coming from Mathiang.
In fairness to the other subs, it should be noted that Mangok had 21 of the reserve minutes against Miami and 20 against Virginia. It’s tough for players to get started if they’re only in for a couple a minutes.
UofL fans keep expecting, or desperately hoping, a star will emerge from the bench some night. You know someone like Shaqquan Aaron or Jaylen Johnson stepping up, showing why Pitino recruited them to one of college basketball’s premier programs. But it hasn’t happened and time is running out.
The UofL coach has proven in the past that he can be competitive in almost any situation. Pitino may want to consider a radical approach to developing the bench. If he has so much confidence in his starters and so little in the reserves, he may need to focus more on his weak links.
How about giving the four contributing starters — Terry Rozier, Chris Jones, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear — a couple of days off each week. Treat the subs as if they’re his only hope, coach them up like they’re the starters, load them up with personal instruction, and drain his bottomless reservoir of motivational tools.
Make them scrimmage against the starters until they’re at least competitive with them, five on four if necessary. Five on three if that’s what it takes. Then raise the stakes, demand they beat the starters. Pitino is a great coach, he can motivate anyone, he can make it happen if he’s desperate enough.
Pitino has said he has a good bench. He needs to prove it if he expects UofL to still be playing basketball in late March.