University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was adamant after Saturday's 73-66 loss to Kentucky that his team's most glaring area for improvement is its frontcourt.
The backcourt, however, is a much different story.
The Cardinals, now 11-2, were carried by their pair of guards in the game, as senior Russ Smith and junior Chris Jones combined to score 37 of the team's 66 points. Smith finished with a game-high 19 points, also dishing out four assists and earning credit for a steal, while Jones had 18 points, half of which coming by way of three first half three-pointers.
When asked about the production he got out of his guards, Pitino was hesitant, but was willing to give them some credit.
"I don't think Russ played a particularly good game from a mental standpoint. I think he took too many ill-advised quick shots, and that hurts your defense when you do that," Pitino said.
"But they played okay, they did a decent job. We're not going to get out-played in the backcourt, we're getting out-played in the front-court too much."
Saturday wasn't the first time that Smith and Jones combined to account for over half of their team's points. Against North Carolina on Nov. 24, the two combined for 56 of the Cardinals' 84 points. Smith exploded for a career-high 36, while Jones chipped in 20. The Cardinals were on the losing end in that game, too.
Although no other Cardinals scored in double-digits, Jones is not willing to question the production he's getting from his teammates.
"I don't want to say (they're not producing)," Jones said. "I think we should get them the ball more."
"As the year goes on I think they'll find spots in the defense that will get them the ball and put them in a great position to score."
Senior forward Luke Hancock was the team's third-leading scorer against Kentucky, chipping in eight points. Hancock struggled mightily in the game, going 3-for-11 from the field, including 2-for-8 from three-point range.
Hancock, who was the Most Outstanding Player of last season's Final Four, had a similar struggle in the early-going of 2012-2013. The 6-foot-6 swingman struggled in games against Duke (zero points in 19 minutes) and Kentucky (zero points in 14 minutes), before hitting game-clinching shots at Syracuse and ultimately leading U of L to the national title with a total of 42 points in two Final Four games.
To get out of the slump, Hancock said he has to "Just keep shooting."
"I do (feel close to turning the corner)," Hancock added. "I had great looks today. Better looks than I usually get, and I feel like I'm going to take a step in the right direction."
Luckily for the Cardinals, that step could come at the perfect time heading into American Athletic Conference play, and alleviate just the right amount of pressure from Smith and Jones.