Cards set to go with improving Mathiang

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino inserted freshman center Mangok Mathiang into the starting lineup on Friday night. Mathiang responded with a solid game as the Cardinals downed Southern Mississippi 69-38.

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino says it really doesn't matter who is in the starting lineup for the Cardinals.

But on Friday night, freshman Mangok Mathiang said his receiving the start against Southern Mississippi was a vote of confidence.

And the 6-foot-11 Mathiang came through.

Mathiang hit 1 of 2 field goals and has just two points but finished with seven rebounds, three blocked shots, one assist and a ton of hustle plays as the Cardinals dismantled the Golden Eagles 69-38.

"Mangok played well," Pitino said. "We are going to go with Mangok and live with his mistakes and mental mistakes and just live with it because of his length and shot blocking. We will live with the mistakes until he gets it."

Mathiang said he feels like he's starting to get it.

He admitted he played "pretty bad" in the loss against North Carolina last week and took a call not long after the game from Gorgui Dieng.

"He told me to keep my head up," Mathiang said. "He's helped me a lot and we talk a lot. He just tells me what I need to do."

Pitino has said before that Mathiang, who was born in Sudan and grew up in Australia, hasn't been around the game long enough and is going to "just keep getting better and better."

"He's an athlete and a lot of these little things are new to him, Pitino said.

But in his first start, Mathiang looked a more in sync. He is averaging 3.9 rebounds a game and now has six blocks in seven games.

"He's a freshman and he's going to make mistakes," senior Luke Hancock said. "But he's going out there, he's working hard and he's willing to learn.

"I am glad we have him back there for us. He's going to get better."

Added Montrezl Harrell: "We're going to live with it because he's working hard. He's still a freshman and is going to make some mistakes."

Mathiang was sure Dieng was going to call him tonight, especially "after what he saw in the second half," when Southern Miss' Michael Craig put him on a poster. The 6-foot-5 Craig slammed a dunk in the face of the 6-10 Mathiang.

"I am going to have nightmares," Mathiang said with a smile.

He said is teammates and coaches had already been giving him the business, noting several teammates said "No. 1 on the top 10."

"It's part of the game," he said. "It happens.

Mathiang said he will shake off the "nightmare" play and get back to work tomorrow because he still has "a lot to improve on."

"I have to be the Gorgui for this team," he said. "Step up every day and get better. I am getting more confident and I think coach P is getting more confident in me."

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