No. 6 Louisville prepares to face Missouri State
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)
As Louisville works toward a complete game, the Cardinals' response to adversity offers an encouraging sign of progress.
The sixth-ranked Cardinals (9-1) overcame the absence of injured point guard Chris Jones with impressive contributions all around in beating Western Kentucky on Saturday.
Coach Rick Pitino said Monday that the junior college transfer will play Tuesday night against Missouri State (8-1) after missing a game with a sprained right wrist.
In the meantime, the coach is hoping the Cardinals follow up a team-wide effort in which leading scorer Russ Smith assumed Jones' point guard duties, freshman Terry Rozier showed his rebounding skills and senior reserve Tim Henderson scored 12 points to lead the bench's strong showing.
With the Bears featuring a similarly deep roster, a repeat performance will be necessary.
Especially since the Cardinals haven't consistently strung together two strong halves.
Saturday offered polar opposites as they slogged through the first half before turning up the pace on both ends in the second and shot 69 percent.
''I think they understand their weakness,'' Pitino said of his team's uneven concentration. ''We've talked about it so much about focusing and listening, and I think they're improving in that area.''
The Hall of Fame coach also seemed encouraged by the team's defensive development despite not being able to apply its trademark full-court pressure like it wants.
Like many schools, Louisville is adjusting to this season's increased enforcement of hand-checking rules, resulting in more man and zone looks than the trapping and pressing that worked so well during last year's championship run.
That could change with the athletic Jones back, though Pitino didn't specify his role or how much he would play.
If nothing else, the return of Louisville's No. 2 scorer (14.9 points per game) boosts offensive prospects for a team that did fine as he watched from the sideline.
Henderson, a walk-on who became a star last spring after scoring back-to-back 3-pointers to rally Louisville past Wichita State in the national semifinal, hit 4 of 6 from long range against WKU for a career high in points. Forward Chane Behanan added 11 points and seven rebounds as the Cardinals' reserves outscored the Hilltoppers' bench 33-20.
The Cardinals' three-point halftime lead ended with a second-half rout.
The finish didn't surprise Henderson, who said, ''we're one of the deepest teams in the country. We've got Kevin (Ware) and Anton (Gill), and it's just all matchups and how coach feels who's going to play good or who matches up well with that certain team. ... I'd say we go about 12 deep.''
Louisville's all-hands-on-deck approach included solid performances from forwards Mangok Mathiang and Stephan Van Treese. Mathiang was selected as the American Athletic Conference rookie of the week on Monday after scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds; Van Treese provided solid relief with Mathiang on the bench with three fouls.
Louisville's next step is continuing that teamwork against Missouri State, which returns nine lettermen and five starters. The Bears' only loss came against Virginia (83-63) in the Corpus Christi Classic and they enter with back-to-back wins over Cameron and Oral Roberts.
The Cardinals are coming off a game in which they answered Pitino's concerns about missing a starter by showing their depth and chemistry.
''This is an easy group to coach in terms of their desire to win,'' Pitino said. ''They're good guys. They're catching on slower than I would've anticipated from a carry-over of a championship team.
''That being said, they're humble guys, very eager to work. They're going to lose their share of games, but they're going to give it their effort every single game.''