No. 18 Kentucky’s young backcourt shows signs of progress in win over No. 6 Louisville

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With their best player sidelined due to serious cramping issues, No. 18 Kentucky trailed No. 6 Louisville 52-51 with 11:01 remaining. And given how young John Calipari’s team is, and their lack of a signature victory to date, that moment represented a major point in the Wildcats’ season.

And Kentucky’s young backcourt rose to the challenge, with the Harrison twins combining to score 21 points and James Young adding six in the second half as the Wildcats beat their in-state rivals, 73-66.

With Randle on the floor in the first half there were issues in regards to shot selection in the first 20 minutes, but without the big man that trio had to take over offensively. And they did, playing a more efficient brand of basketball in the process. After combining to shoot 6-for-24 in the first half with Randle going 7-for-8, the Harrison twins (Andrew: 18 points; Aaron: ten points) and Young (18 points, ten rebounds) shot a combined 10-for-21 in the second half.

Was this a watershed moment for the young Wildcats? That remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that their second half performance is a step in the right direction.

To limit the progress to those three would be a mistake however, as Kentucky limited Louisville to 32.1% shooting in the second half and 39.7% for the game. Sure Louisville has its own issues to address, especially when it comes to what their front court provides offensively, but Kentucky did a good job of limiting the Cardinals’ quality looks. And there’s also the offensive rebounding, with Kentucky rebounding 41.5% of its missed shots on the afternoon.

This is an area in which Kentucky’s been good all season, as they entered Saturday’s game as the nation’s best offensive rebounding team, and they took advantage of the second chances in the first half (11-0 first-half edge in second chance points; 17-6 for the game) to overcome Louisville’s hot start.

Looking forward there are still issues to address, most notably making sure Randle’s taken care of offensively when he’s in position to score. Louisville had no answer for him when he was on the floor, and that will continue to be the case in most of the games left on Kentucky’s schedule.

He wasn’t available for much of the second half and without one of the nation’s best players in the second half Kentucky could have wilted, but instead they rose to the challenge. And that’s just as important for the Wildcats moving forward as the result.

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.