Louisville can’t keep this up. And Rick Pitino knows it.
The No. 4 Cardinals stayed unbeaten by rallying past Western Kentucky Friday night, but it wasn’t without some serious heroics by Russ Smith (again) and a few timely buckets. But with Georgetown and Kentucky looming in the next eight days, the Cards need more than just Smith.
“He’s winning us games on just pure intensity, pure heart,” Pitino said Smith, who finished with 23 points, less than a week after dumping 24 on Memphis. “He’s the reason we’re winning but we’ve got to get the rest of the guys playing like that.”
No doubt. At 12-0, Louisville’s one of six teams with an unblemished record, but that’s not indicative of how they’ve been playing. The last three – tight games against Memphis, Charleston and the Hilltoppers, all at home – have Pitino worried for next week.
He told ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes after the game that another performance like Friday’s would result in a 20-point loss to the Hoyas and a 40-point loss to the Wildcats. He was exaggerating, of course. A team doesn’t have its best start in 37 years on luck alone. (One road game also helps …)
But he’s right to be worried.
The three Louisville players who use the most possessions (Peyton Siva, Smith and freshman Chane Behanan) all score less than a point per possession, which is below average for a D-I player. And when those three happen to be your team’s three most prominent players, well, that’s cause for concern.
Yes, Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith and even sophomore center Gorgui Dieng all score more efficiently and are the Cardinals’ top three scorers. But the other three have the ball in their hands far more often. Kuric’s not gonna get his own shot against the likes of Georgetown or Kentucky. Siva and Russ Smith are.
So what’s answer? Practice hard and make sure you defend. If the shots aren’t falling, at least the Cards can make it tough for everyone else to score.
“We got through the first part of our schedule, and now the most important part comes,” Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “We just have to get the whole team playing better. We will take some time off and come back ready to work and get ready for Georgetown.”
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