Pittsburgh v Louisville

Louisville making slow progress back to its closing ways in win over Pitt

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Louisville just needed a win, any type of win, to get out of their current funk of a three-game losing streak.

The one they got, a 64-61 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night at the KFC Yum! Center, was an ugly one. And frankly, it was one that the Panthers really lost, more than the Cardinals won.

Pitt was an abysmal 3-for-12 from the free throw line. That’s really the only stat one needs to see. The points were free and the Panthers didn’t take them. They made up for going 9-for-18 from three-point range, but that was almost in total desperation.

But even in a game that they were given, Louisville was able to do something, or believe it was able to do something, that they haven’t done in the past three games, close.

Free throws, primarily in the second half, had been a problem in the past three contests, with the no. 13-ranked Cardinals hitting 20-of-42 after halftime. Tonight? They were 13-of-17 overall, including 6-for-6 from Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan in the final minute to lock it up.

Turnovers? Well, turnovers in the final minutes weren’t the Cardinals friend as well over the past 10 days. Peyton Siva’s gaffe that led to the Michael Carter-Williams dunk. The three turnovers in three possessions at Syracuse and, even though it didn’t go into the record books as a turnover, the final possession against Georgetown are all examples of sloppy late-game play that contributed to losses that easily would’ve been wins earlier in the season for Louisville.

Against Pitt, the patience that was absent in recent contests, the virtue that Siva and Smith (who scored 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the win, something that had also been missing recently) had been able to use when the game got close or the minutes dwindled, came back. Probably the most significant example of that came with less than a minute to go. Up 60-58, Smith had a shot at a drive off the right that probably would’ve led to a pull-up bank shot. He could’ve taken it, but he backed off when he recognized Lamar Patterson was leading Smith right into Steven Adams for the trap. He passed back out to Siva and it led to two of those free throws from Dieng, sealing it.

It’s the little things that will bring the confidence back to Louisville. Especially in Big East Conference games that will more than likely feature more close contests than blow-outs.

But things are already starting to return to normal. Dieng finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Smith put up his 20. Siva, while his offense needs to improve, finished with 10 assists and four turnovers and as a team the Cardinals finished with 18 assists on 23 field goals.

The Panthers shot 9-for-18 from three, including a deep one from Tray Woodall at the buzzer to make it a three-point decision. Patterson was the only other Panther in double figures with 10 points and Talib Zanna finished with 10 rebounds.

It’s a win. No one remembers how you won at this point in the season, only that you did, come March. But if there’s one thing to remember, by that rationale, it’s that Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware, both key cogs on offense and defense, didn’t play a minute.

But in the Big East, Louisville will have to keep finding ways to getting back to their closing ways. It shouldn’t be too hard, given how the first two months of the season went. More than likely it’s going to come down to that as we head towards the Big Dance.

David Harten is the founder of The Backboard Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.