Grand Canyon pumped about visit from No. 14 Louisville
Louisville coach Rick Pitino didn't need to look very far for a cautionary tale for his 14th-ranked Cardinals (6-1) as they head west to Phoenix to play Grand Canyon (3-3) at 9 p.m. ET Saturday at GCU Arena.
Pitino started his film session Thursday with footage of Indiana losing to Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne earlier this season. Billed as the biggest home game in years for IPFW, the Mastadons jumped out to a big lead and knocked off the Hoosiers in a program-defining win.
"Well, that is the first real road game," Pitino said. " ... The first clip I am going to show is the Indiana vs. Fort Wayne to get the guys to understand that it's a true road game. We need it.
"That's why I wanted it because we need it desperately. Look, I was hoping to be 7-0, but we are 6-1 and we are playing excellent defense. I have no complaints."
Pitino wants to see his team tested in a tough environment. He compared it with the atmosphere they will see at small but intense arenas in the ACC like Duke's Cameron Indoor or home courts like Clemson or Georgia Tech.
For Grand Canyon, the opportunity to host a recent national champion like Louisville is golden. The Antelopes have played teams like Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky, San Diego State and Utah but never at GCU arena.
"It's huge for the school and the program," Phoenix Suns owner and Grand Canyon booster Jerry Colangelo said. "A lot of times schools will say they'll come, but they want to play on a neutral court. The risk of possibly losing is too great. When Louisville was willing to do what they're doing, that says a lot about their character and their willingness to help. I think it's a good story."
Grand Canyon senior Dewayne Russell can't wait for the Cardinals to come to town.
"It's going to be rocking," Russell said. "I remember when I first got to the school and sitting right there with my grandmother. To see the whole thing build and a school like Louisville come in here it's amazing."
At 3-3, the Lopes (short for Antelopes) haven't had the start to the season they would have liked, but a home game vs. Louisville might be just what the doctor ordered for coach Dan Majerle's crew.
"We tried to beef up our schedule so the kids can see that we're playing good competition," Majerle said. "Our goal ultimately is to be a top-25 team. We're still a long way away from that, but our guys need to see these kind of games. It's fun for our guys. It's not so fun for me, but it's a good opportunity for our guys."
Grand Canyon started the season with a 96-61 loss at Duke and an 85-76 loss at Penn State before beating Albany, Marist and Coppin State. On Monday, the Lopes missed 20 of 24 3-point attempts in a tough 76-64 loss to SIU Edwardsville, falling to 3-3.
The lone bright spot from Monday's loss to SIU-Edwardsville was Russell, the 5-foot-11, 155-pound guard who scored 26 points. Majerle said Russell has come a long way.
"I'll be honest with you. When he first got here, he wasn't very good," Majerle said. "He wasn't a very good teammate. I remember to this day when he stood up and said, 'You'll never have to worry about me again."
Russell and 6-6 forward Keonta Vernon are the two players Louisville will have to focus on stopping. The pair take more than 57 percent of Grand Canyon's shots so far this season.
For Louisville, Saturday is about staying focused in a wild road environment. Pitino said he wants to see his team continue to play exemplary defense.
"For a young, inexperienced team we played super defense and for the last seven games we've played great defense," Pitino said. "We just have to keep going inside and instead of playing east to west play north to south and go into the post and cut off the post."
Louisville's inside game was more impressive against Purdue than it has been for most of the season. Starting power forward Jaylen Johnson is averaging 9.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. Starting center Mangok Mathiang is averaging just 6.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
The key for Louisville so far this season has been depth. Eight different players are averaging more than 5.0 points per game and nine players are playing double-digit minutes.
GAME NOTES - Louisville sophomore G Donovan Mitchell has 19 steals in the first seven games. ... The Cardinals are holding opponents to just 57.9 points per game. ... No Louisville foe has scored more than 66 points in a game this season. ... Grand Canyon has not scored uner 61 points in a game this season.