Cardinals learn a lot from opener v. Minnesota

By on November 16, 2014

By Noah Allison–

College basketball is here, and in this region of the world, that is a phrase worth celebrating.

Most teams opened up their season in a common fashion, by beating up on the likes of some nationally irrelevant, small school like Grand Canyon or Mississippi Valley State. These resulted in 100-point blowout victories that, in the long run, aren’t very constructive for improving as a team.

Thankfully for Card Nation, U of L is one of the only schools that got to play a real opponent and learn real lessons about itself as a team.

In the second ever matchup of the ‘Pitino Classic,’ son Richard Pitino and his Minnesota Golden Gophers took on his father Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals.

The Cards fought through the tough times and took care of business, winning 81-68.

A former U of L assistant coach and obvious Rick Pitino protégé, Richard Pitino’s knowledge of the Louisville system proved to be a great task for the Cards to have to overcome to start the season. The Gophers’ defense is very much like Louisville’s, and, as champions of last year’s NIT Tournament, they return the talent capable of making a splash in the Big 10 this year.

Last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Cardinals faced one of Pitino’s former assistant coaches in Steve Masiello and his Manhattan Jaspers. The familiarity in the first round matchup had Louisville in a scrappy and unsettling battle in which U of L only escaped with a 71-64 victory. The point to be taken is an assistant coach knows what areas to expose, and Louisville got to see a talented team that plays very similarly to them.

Throughout the game, there were many themes to take note of, but there were a few things that were most important and easy to notice, the biggest being Montrezl Harrell.

Everybody knew this was his team this year, and everybody knew that he worked on his shooting over the off-season, so nothing was more exciting than seeing all the hype and expectations hold true.

The first points of the season came off a three point shot Harrell made. He led the Cards in scoring with 30 points, a personal career high for the junior forward. He also led the team in rebounds with seven and was 9-12 shooting. Over his first two seasons at Louisville, Harrell made two three point shots. In the opening game of the season, he hit three.

His leadership and his energy were constantly there, and his play had commentators talking player of the year candidate before halftime.

Outside of Harrell, the other two largest contributors, to be expected, were the guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. Rozier had 18 points, six rebounds and a game high four assists. Jones had 13 points, four rebounds and three assists.

The trio combined for 61 of Louisville’s 81 points.

The other team captain, senior forward Wayne Blackshear, did not have the start to his senior year for which he, Rick Pitino and Card Nation were hoping.

A theme that plagued his junior season also plagued his game Friday night. Blackshear picked up three personal fouls early, which took him out of almost the whole first half. He picked up his fourth early in the second, forcing him to play cautiously the rest of the way. Blackshear had seven points, four rebounds, one assist and three turnovers.

If there is one thing to keep in mind, it is that Blackshear was not the only one with calls to go against him. The game had 60 total personal fouls called. While they didn’t pick their fouls up as early, freshman center Chinanu Onuaku fouled out with five, Jones fouled out with five, Rozier had four fouls and backup guards Anton Gill and David Levitch also had four fouls.

While Blackshear definitely needs to be more mindful of the penalties he is committing, the foul filled game hopefully won’t be a theme for Cardinal games this season.

With the absence of Blackshear, the depth of the team proved to be a possible scare. Freshman guard Quentin Snider led all bench scorers with seven points. Gill played 19 minutes backing up both the guards and Blackshear. His play was valuable yet poor. He missed all five shots he took yet hustled on defense and had four rebounds.

For Louisville, the depth of this team will determine their success in the ACC. Harrell, Jones and Rozier cannot be asked nor expected to carry the load on a night in and night out basis. Depth is what will allow the Cards to do what they do best and need to do: put the pressure on defensively. Based off the first game, it looks like something they will be able to do this year.

Minnesota had 18 turnovers, and Louisville had 11 steals. Rozier led the team with four and Jones was second with three.

The game was back and forth for the first ten minutes of play, but once Louisville was able to turn on the press, they controlled the tempo for the rest of the game.

Watching Minnesota dribble in a panic and the Cards clapping their hands on defense felt nice, because at the end of the day, that is Louisville basketball.

The rest of the team will come along, Blackshear will get in his groove and the three leaders of the game will continue to lead the team throughout the season. But at the end of the day, if the Cards were able to channel their inner 2013 defense this early on against such a quality opponent, then there is no question Pitino has these Cards on the right track.

Photo by Austin Lassell / The Louisville Cardinal 

About Noah Allison

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