Louisville freshman guard Donovan Mitchell made his first career start for the Cardinals on Sunday night at the KFC Yum! Center and turned in the type of the performance that his Hall of Fame head coach described as "brilliant."
Hosting Wake Forest for it's opening contest in ACC play, No. 18 Louisville (12-2) was looking to rebound following the narrow loss at Kentucky and just as it had received a spark from Mitchell during its second half rally in Lexington, the team saw the rookie from Greenwich, Conn., once again provide a big lift. Among his scoring was the game's first points and a layup with 2:06 to play to put the Cardinals ahead for good.
Mitchell finished with a career-high 18 points, scoring 10 in the second half to led U of L in scoring in its 73-65 win over the Demon Deacons. He narrowly missed a double-double by pulling down a season-best eight rebounds in a season-high 30 minutes of action.
"The kid is tough," said graduate transfer guard Damion Lee. "He has a lot of confidence in himself and its definitely not something you can take from him, especially when he's rolling. Tonight was his night and I'm really proud of him. Him and Chinanu (Onuaku) are really the reason we won this game."
Onuaku who recorded a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds on Sunday, said he wasn't surprised by the play of Mitchell, describing him as "a high-energy guy."
Mitchell also tallied a pair of steals, a block and no turnovers in the win, leading Rick Pitino to say that his freshman is "really, really improving and getting better."
"You know he's a special basketball player because the only time I was upset at him was when he started pointing at half court, no actually he pointed from the other team's bench, about the lob. A fifth year senior, like I told him if a bird flies across the gym are you going to throw it to the bird because he's pointing? And he just threw it up and to no rhyme or reason and Trey's got to know better. Donovan's got to stop pointing. Outside of that, he was brilliant tonight."
His performance against Wake Forest was his sixth double-digit scoring effort of the season, but his current focus remains on improving on the defensive end.
Now 14 games into his young Cardinal career, Mitchell, who has appeared in each, is averaging 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per outing.
"I looked at the film from the four previous games you know I wasn't really pressuring the ball on the press and after the Kentucky game I kind of gained that confidence back," he said following the game. "I came here as a defensive player and I think I would say I kind of lost it, but I think I got my confidence back on defense and pressuring the ball. I think that's my big role on this team. I'm not going to score as much as I did tonight, so I need to focus on defense and let the game come to me."