Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell was in the starting lineup for every game this season until the 6th-ranked Cardinals made the trip to Indianapolis to face No. 16 Indiana on New Year's Eve.
The reason, as head coach Rick Pitino explained during his post-game comments was motivation. Pitino has asked the 6-foot-3 sophomore to shoot more often and not concern himself with the effectiveness, just keep shooting. He needs Mitchell to become a standout performer at both ends of the floor.
"I had a talk with Donovan Mitchell, and I said, look, son, I never thought I would take you out of the starting lineup," Pitino said. "You know starting doesn't mean anything, but I just saw who wants to play like a star, and that means he's not counting his misses, he's someone that'll shoot every open shot, create, and not worry about what the outside world thinks of his game."
After 13 games, Mitchell had already established himself as one of the top defensive players in the nation. His 29 steals is best in the ACC and among the top 30 nationally, but his inconsistency on the offensive end has been a struggle. While his 11.5 points per game average was second best on the squad entering the game against the Hoosiers, connecting on just 35 percent - and just 29 percent beyond the arc - made him hesitant to take an open outside shot.
"Defensively, I had confidence, but offensively I didn't have much," Mitchell said.
The motivation to rediscover his game on the offensive end was given a boost when he received a lengthy text from his sister prior to the game. The message brought his lack of confidence to the forefront.
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"Where's my brother at?" Mitchell explained. "He's there off the court, but he's not there on the court. Go out there and kick butt and just be the player that we all know you can be."
With his sister in attendance at Banker's Life Fieldhouse for the Countdown Classic, Mitchell watched the first few minutes from the Cardinals bench.
"I wasn't worried whether I started or came off the bench," he said, explaining that he was prepared to be "aggressive" once his number was called.
That moment came three and half minutes into the game. With his team trailing by two early, Mitchell didn't hesitate when he found himself open and drained his first shot, a three-pointer. The remainder of the opening half saw him connect on just 2 of 7 attempts from the floor and he missed his next three attempts beyond the arc, but his aggressive play continued and sparked the Cardinals to the 77-62 win over Indiana.
Mitchell connected on 6 of 8 attempts in the second half, including three three-pointers. He finished with a career-best 25 points.
Following the game, he sought out his sister and said "thank you" as the two hugged.
"She kind of inspired me for this one," he said.
Opposing head coach Tom Crean was complimentary of Mitchell's performance and determination to overcome his early season shooting woes.
"He's a really nice young man," Crean said. "We recruited him. I hope for his sake and their sake that he continues to play like that, because obviously he played a little different than he's played as of late, and it goes to show, you can be in a slump at a certain point in time, and you bust out, and I hope he plays great for them."