Morning After: Cards sock it to Bulls

TAMPA, Fla. – University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino called Sunday's 59-41 victory over South Florida one of his team's best efforts of the season. Pitino was excited about the Cardinals' focus on defense and passing and also encouraged by Russ Smith's play. Here are some thoughts from the game:

1. Defense, defense, defense: The Cardinals were sensational on the defensive end of the floor. Yes, U of L gave up five first-half three-pointers and Pitino was not happy about that but on the flip side allowed just four buckets the entire second half. The Bulls were 4 of 27 – 14.8 percent – and 0-for-11 from three-point range. Overall, South Florida hit 13 of 53 – 24.5 percent – which is the lowest any opponent has shot this season against the Cardinals. Louisville was focused, they were talking and they were very active. Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware off the bench got their hands on a lot of balls, while Gorgui Dieng helped with five blocks. It was, in my opinion, one of the better efforts of the season and something that Pitino and his staff can use to build on for the rest of the campaign.

2. Making the extra pass: Pitino said after the game his team hasn't been shooting the ball as well because they're not passing it well. He mentioned Indiana and Gonzaga as good shooting teams in part because they're two of the best passing teams in the country. Even before Pitino's comments after the game, my thoughts were the Cardinals looked so much sharper and were sharing the ball better during the game. Remember that 3-on-1 fast break in the first half? Peyton Siva hit Chane Behanan – who had a layup that would have been contested but instead of forcing it hit Russ Smith for an easy layup. It's no coincidence the Cardinals won easy when they had 22 field goals and finished with 15 assists. If that percentage keeps up, U of L will be tough to beat.

3. A new-look Russ Smith: Russ Smith said after the game he's going to quit looking to score all the time, realizing that defenses are keying on him and trying to shut him down. Pitino said he's been trying to get that point across for weeks but on Sunday was the first time that Smith played like the coaches wanted him, sharing the ball and not taking bad shots. He was 4 of 7 from the field and took only really one bad shot – a wild leaner from the right side of the free-throw line in the second half. He led the team with 15 points and also had six rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes. It's a different Russ. But a Russ that's not always wild and crazy could be just the Russ that U of L needs down the stretch.

4. Blackshear and Ware step up: If the Cardinals ate going to make a deep run in the tournament, there's going to have to be others besides the starters that step up and contribute. Pitino was certainly pleased on Sunday with Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware. The two came off the bench to score a combined 19 points, including 15 straight during one stretch in the first half. Blackshear showed no signs of his shoulder surgery, scoring 12 and also getting three steals and three rebounds. He had three dunks, taking the ball to the basket. Ware, who recently started playing more point guard to keep Smith at the two, had seven points and three rebounds. He did a nice job running the offense when Siva was out. It's just one game but those two guys need to keep stepping up.

5. A few leftover nuggets: Yes, that Chane Behanan behind-the-back pass he saved out of bounds right into Russ Smith's hands for a layup is one of the best – and craziest - passes I've ever see in person. It was perfect and right on the spot. Behanan had 12 points and three assists. . . . Pitino did make a sub for Gorgui Dieng early in the first half and also got him a quick minute or so in the second half. Stephan Van Treese played a total of eight minutes. Dieng finished with only four points on 1 of 4 shooting but had 10 rebounds, five blocks and two steals. . . . Luke Hancock picked up two quick fouls and only played 12 minutes. . . . Montrezl Harrell did a nice job on defense when he was in. He had two blocks.


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