Louisville’s often-stifling defense has had trouble living up to
Rick Pitino’s lofty standards at times this season. If it continues
to look anything like it did in the Cardinals’ latest game, the
legendary coach shouldn’t have many complaints.
Fifth-ranked Louisville shouldn’t have much trouble using its
frenetic pressure to great effect Saturday when it hosts a UMKC
team that’s had trouble putting the ball in the basket.
The Cardinals (7-1) lost center Gorgui Dieng to a broken wrist
in their 84-61 win over then-No. 13 Missouri on Nov. 24, and
struggled without their interior presence in a loss to then-No. 5
Duke and a tight home victory over Illinois State last
Dieng is expected back Dec. 19 against Florida International,
but based on the Cardinals’ performance Tuesday at Charleston, they
should be just fine in their final two games without him.
Louisville had a season-high 18 steals and forced 27 turnovers in
an 80-38 rout of the Cougars that left even the rather critical
“It’s the best we’ve looked this year on defense,” Pitino said.
“We worked on it all week.”
The Cardinals are forcing 21.9 turnovers per game – second-best
in the nation – and are among the top 10 in scoring defense,
allowing 53.9 points.
That doesn’t bode well for UMKC (4-4), which averages 64.6
points and turns it over 15.5 times per game – tied for 255th in
The Kangaroos have won two of their last three – beating North
Dakota 73-70 on Wednesday for their first road win in a year – but
their previous experience with a top-5 opponent didn’t go well.
Then-No. 3 Ohio State held UMKC to 25.5 percent shooting and forced
18 turnovers in a 91-45 win Nov. 23.
UMKC, which has never beaten a Top 25 team, has averaged 43.3
points in three losses to ranked opponents since the start of last
While Saturday’s contest doesn’t figure to be much of a struggle
for Pitino’s team, Louisville can stand to improve in one area in
particular. The Cardinals are shooting just 30.1 percent from
3-point range, yet they’re attempting 21.6 per game – second-most
in the Big East.
Louisville’s full-court press can allow it to take a few of
those risks at the other end, but the backcourt duo that’s forcing
many of those turnovers has kept the Cardinals’ offense flowing.
Point guard Peyton Siva has averaged 16.0 points and shot 52.2
percent in his past four games, while Russ Smith is averaging a
team-high 19.0 this season.
Those two certainly impressed Charleston coach Doug Wojcik.
“Peyton Siva is so in control of what he is doing,” Wojcik said.
“Russ Smith is a big-time scorer and just finds ways. Peyton is an
NBA point guard. Both are very good. Both of them have played so
long together, they are like brothers and play off of each
If Siva can get some more shots for Wayne Blackshear, Louisville
could blossom into a true title contender. The much-hyped sophomore
guard showed flashes as a freshman after returning in February from
a torn labrum, but his 18 points at Charleston – which came in 21
minutes – were a career high.
No UMKC player averages in double figures, though senior guard
Thomas Staton has totaled 29 points in his last two games –
starting for the first time this season in Wednesday’s victory.