The message from Rick Pitino before the game was that his team wasn’t getting better, just hanging on, trying to keep things together, despite all the overachieving, the comebacks, the surprising road wins and somehow being in the thick of the Big East race.
Strange coming from Pitino, the one always preaching positivity, the one always setting such high expectations despite the injuries that have plagued this team. Pitino has a reason for everything he says, whether he believes it or not.
Members of the Louisville basketball team must have been taking him seriously, barely escaping with a 61-57 win over a DePaul team that has yet to win a conference game. Playing tentatively, taking the night off in some categories, especially defensively — the No. 3 team in steals managing only six from a bottom feeder.
Pretty obvious that U of L is a much different team without Preston Knowles, not nearly as good. Maybe average at best. Put the Cards against any other Big East team Saturday and there may have been a very unhappy ending at the Yum! Center.
Yet there were those highlights that provide hope:
- Terrence Jennings looking more confident on a couple of those hook shots, grasping the concept, one like he had been doing it all his life. Eight rebounds, including three on the offensive end.
- Michael Marra thinking, missing a wide-open three point shot, saving the missed shot from going out of bounds, getting the ball to George Goode and back from George Goode. No time to think, this one from the corner, bottom of the net.
- Anytime Peyton Siva gets back up off the floor, UofL fans consider themselves blessed. Once, twice, losing count. Will he get up this time? So far he has. No shooting eye this game but making 10 assists and only one turnover. Keep getting up Peyton.
- Kyle Kuric looking more fragile as time goes on, none of those surprising dunks or blocks this outing but three of five behind the arc and 19 points.
- Chris Smith keeps flirting with the casualty list, hitting the floor, bleeding from the head, hushing the crowd. Taking his seat next to trainer Fred Hina, indefinitely? No, returning to the court the next play, taking his life in his hands.
During a post-game interview, Pitino predicts that this same group will beat a good Notre Dame team on its home floor next Wednesday, the place where his teams have been trounced in recent seasons. Promises a win.
You can bet the players are listening.