The Cardinals, playing the first of two exhibition games in the Caribbean, overwhelmed the Bahamians with their depth and fullcourt press in a lopsided 115-54 win. Freshman forward Chane Behanan led Louisville with 16 points and seven rebounds.
"He's got very good ability," Rick Pitino said on his 840 WHAS post-game show. "He's just not a possession basketball player. He doesn't try to influence every possession, that's his weakness. The obvious thing is his size, talent and strength, he runs well, jumps well, has very good hands. Now he's got to learn to play every possession and be fundamentally sound."
Pitino was pleased with his team's defense early in the game as the Cardinals jumped out to a 26-6 lead before taking a 57-27 halftime lead.
"The first ten minutes we played terrific defense," Pitino said. "We've been working on our rotating, trapping halfcourt defense and we came out with great energy defensively. Then the rest of the game was meaningless."
"We have so many guys to rotate in and out of the game," Chris Smith said. "It (press) is going to be outstanding this year."
Junior Mike Marra scored 16 points on 5 of 8 three-point shooting, while senior guard Chris Smith, who played some minutes at point guard in the second half, finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds. Russ Smith added 14 points and Kyle Kuric pitched in 12 points. Peyton Siva chipped in 11 points, 6 assists, six rebounds and four steals. Gorgui Dieng also added 11 points.
"I think he can play a role as a two guard," Pitino said of Russ Smith. "He doesn't have the mental capacity to play the one. Even in high school he averaged 32 points per game, but it wasn't as a point. He's always been a scorer. We're going to continue to play him at the two."
Elisha Justice was limited with a groin injury, and Pitino said finding someone to back up Peyton Siva at the point is a major key for his Cardinals.
"We've got to find somebody to back up Peyton Siva," said Pitino. "Whether it's Kevin Ware, who we hope it will be, or Chris Smith, we'll work with him on that. Physically, in the Big East, we've got to have a guy who can play defense."
Pitino had talked about redshirting freshman Angel Nunez last week, but it doesn't sound like that's part of the plan after the 6'8 forward scored 11 points Thursday night.
"I think he's going to be a very good basketball player," Pitino said. "I'm not a big believer in redshirting because I think they lose it mentally when redshirting. Angel is not ready to play as a freshman, but he's got a great stroke. He's long and does a lot of good things. As weak fundamentally as Chane Behanan is multiply that time five with Angel. He always gets beat defensively, but I don't think I will redshirt (him)."
Pitino also saw promise in the play of freshman big man Zach Price.
"Zach is a project, but we need Zach Price this year," Pitino said. "Some things he does very well and I get excited and then he'll make a fundamental mistake you wouldn't believe he'd make. We have to have him this year with Terrence Jennings gone. He's got to play and give us serviceable minutes."
Louisville made 15-32 three-pointers and made 40-of-72 shots from the floor. The Cardinals committed 20 turnovers, but held Commonwealth to 22-of-64 shooting from the field.
"The ball movement was good, I just don't think these teams play the type of defense we see in the Big East. Things are coming too easy and you have to be careful," Pitino said. "Saturday we're not going to play a Red-White scrimmage, but work on our halfcourt execution."
Game ObservationsIt was great to see Peyton Siva knock down a three to start the scoring for the Cardinals. Siva's the key for Louisville this season, as he establishes tempo, leads the team and finds teammates for scoring opportunities. Siva's defensive effort was solid, and led to a few easy transition baskets Thursday night. He appears poised for a big junior season for the Cardinals.
Though the Commonwealth Giants really didn't have anybody to match up against Gorgui Dieng, the center position appears upgraded despite the early departure of Terrence Jennings. Dieng gives Louisville an offensive presence in the lane, and looked good on two first half turnarounds. The 6'10 sophomore was active on defense, blocking shots and drawing a charge and did solid work on the offensive boards.
Chane Behanan, despite his struggles from the foul line, certainly lived up to his billing. The 6'7 freshman forward made his presence felt down low and will improve Louisville's defensive rebounding this season. He also stepped in the passing lane for a steal and breakaway dunk in the first half. Once Behanan learns to consistently use his big body on the block he's going to get a lot of easy points and free throw opportunities. Oh, and Behanan's stoke looked good on that baseline three-pointer.
Mike Marra had it working from three-point range, draining three first half three's. He added another three at the start of the second half, and made a few nice passes that led to easy buckets for his teammates. Marra finished with five three-pointers.
Chris Smith was his solid, though unspectacular self. The senior guard made open perimeter shots, converted his free throw opportunities and finished on the break. Smith won't wow onlookers, but he's an reliable guard who brings a lot to the table for the Cardinals.
After scoring a game-high 25 points in the Red-White scrimmage, Russ Smith gave Louisville an offensive boost in the first, nailing a floater in the lane and draining a wing triple. Smith still needs to make better decisions with the ball, but his energy off the bench was a positive. And the 5'11 Smith had a nice throw down dunk late in the contest when no one stopped his progress down the lane.
Angel Nunez showed his range with a deep wing three, then followed with a flush on the break. Once he adds strength he'll be able to finish around the rim, as he had a couple missed putback opportunities in the first half. Really good to see the freshman put it on the floor and attack the basket late in the game. Nunez ran the floor well, too, and was rewarded with a nifty pass from Russ Smith for an alley oop slam.
Zach Price had a nice second half flurry with a post-move finish, a vicious block on defense, then beat his man down the court for a dunk.