The new "hands-off" officiating was front and center at the KFC Yum! Center on Tuesday night when Louisville hosted Kentucky Wesleyan for an exhibition.
Trips to the charity stripe came soon after tip-off. The visiting Panthers committed their seventh team foul in less than three minutes of action. The Cardinals shot 33 free throws in the first half, 56 for the game.
Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino had his Cardinals ready. While other coaches bemoaned the change in the rule, Pitino was prepping for it.
"Well, I think you are going to see the way they are going to call it," Pitino said following the 115-67 win. "We knew it was going to happen and our starters did a very good job of taking advantage of the new way they are going to referee, as well as defensively not fouling. When we subbed a lot is when we fouled much more."
Weeks leading up to the exhibition opener, the Cardinals were practicing with the anticipation of a tighter called game.
"I think we were ready for the referees," Pitino said. "We really drove it home to them the last three weeks on how the game was going to be called because we were just watching all the scores from people scrimmaging, other exhibitions, and the three-hour games. We were ready for that."
Guard Terry Rozier excelled in the closely called game. He attacked the rim and pressed well without committing a foul in 26 minutes. The freshman scored 18 points, including 6 of 8 from the free throw line, while also pulling down a team-high 9 rebounds.
"We've been preparing for the last four weeks, since the last scrimmage," Rozier told Cardinal Authority. "It's probably tough on other teams because they haven't prepared. That's why we got a lot of calls and we have guards like myself, Russ Smith and Chris Jones that know how to draw the foul. If we didn't have a great coach like Rick Pitino to prepare us for the new rule, then we would be in for some bad luck."
While there was a combined 64 fouls in the game, Pitino had little complaint about playing his style of basketball within the rule and believes there will be an adjustment period for all.
"With the exception of the offensive player throwing his body into defensive player, which is the way the game should be called, I didn't have a complaint because that is the way it us going to be called now. You may say that it will be a long game, but know they will adjust. That is the exact way it happened in the NBA, the exact way. Everyone will adjust to it and you will have freedom of movement, but they are not going to let you bump the guy and stop his progress, and you are going to get used to it."
The Cardinals also proved that the signature full court press will continue to create havoc on opponents without being hindered by the new rule.
"What I was most pleased with the whole night was that we did not foul, I think one time pressing," Pitino said. "I can't remember it. I don't think we fouled one time pressing. And that's unusual for a regular called game. We fouled in half court, and that's good, the guys moved their feet and trapped correctly."
Rozier says that the "hands-off" style has become the way to play at the U of L practice facility.
"We practice everyday in the press and not putting your hands on someone because Coach P is going to call it."
"We just call everything, everything," Pitino explained. "We were really prepared for that. I told them to not get upset with me because that is what it is going to be like. I experienced it in the NBA, and it is going to happen."
Pitino, who said he thinks the adjustment period "will take a month," believes that it is for the better of the game.
"I told them to not get upset, but just move your feet. I know it is frustrating for me, you, and the fans but you will really have a better game once everybody adjusts. You will see much better offense."