January 15, 2016

Cardinals smothering defense seals win

By Sam Draut–

Coach Rick Pitino said it was a beautiful game to watch, and though the 21,632 fans inside the KFC YUM! might beg to differ, but what mattered was as the final buzzer sounded, Louisville had picked up its first win over a top-25 ranked team this season.

Chinanu Onuaku produced his fourth-consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Louisville’s smothering defense dominated 20th-ranked Pitt 59-41.

Pitino said his team’s defensive effort was “impressive” and that the (14-3 overall,3-1 in the ACC) Cardinals were brilliant in all phases of the game.

One of the hottest shooting teams in the country, Pitt (14-2 overall, 3-1 in the ACC) averaged 86.4 points and shot 50.7-percent from the field over their previously held 10-game winning streak.

But, Louisville was able to slow down the Panther scoring attack with execution and intensity.

“We kept switching from zone to man, and then man to zone,” Pitino said.

Pitt was held to a season low 41 points and shot just 14-of-49 from the field. Damion Lee had four of Louisville’s 10 steals as the Cardinals forced 19 turnovers and scored 21 points off the turnovers. Lee scored 18 points and hit eight-of-nine free throws.

“We came in thinking they were an NBA team,” Donovan Mitchell said. “That is the type of mentality you have to have coming into every game.”

Though defense highlighted the night, Onuaku took control in the low-post as the Cardinal perimeter players continued to feed him the ball throughout the game.

The sophomore center was seven-of-13 from the field and made four free throws. The 18 points tied his career-high, and after the game, Onuaku attributed his improving offensive prowess on hard work in the offseason.

“My coaches got me in the gym, my brothers got me in the gym,” Onuaku said.

Both teams started slow in the first half, shooting under 30-percent and Louisville went into halftime leading 20-17.

“We missed a lot of inside shots,” Pitino said of the first half. “We’re a good shooting team, we just have to get used to playing that type of defense.”

Pitt made only two field goals in the first nine-and-a-half minutes of the second half and Louisville ballooned its lead to 15 points with 9:33 left to play.

While Lee and Onuaku scored 18 points apiece, Louisville’s second leading scorer on the year, Trey Lewis, couldn’t find his shot. The graduate-transfer was held to zero points and was zero-of-six shooting from the field.

Quentin Snider was the Cardinals third leading scorer with eight points and added three assists.

After failing to Clemson 66-62 on Sunday, Louisville’s first marquee win of the season give the Cardinals some momentum heading into a tough stretch of ACC play.

“It is huge,” Mitchell said. “We have had a couple of opportunities to beat top-25 teams, but we came up short. To close this one out, its big for us, it’s a big confidence booster.”

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