The Cards are now 13-1 overall and 1-0 in the ACC having won its 8th consecutive road conference opener. That’s a great start, but what’s even better is how Chris Jones responded after essentially being benched vs. Long Beach State following Louisville’s lone loss of the season to Kentucky.
For Jones, everything is about keeping a positive attitude. Coach Pitino prior to the Wake Forest game spoke about how emotional of a player Chris Jones is and how keeping him even is the key. On Sunday vs. the Demon Deacons Chris came out with 8 assists and just 2 points on 3 shots in the 1st half. In the second half, Jones was an entirely different player taking 10 shots, scoring 20 points, and added 2 assists. Jones took some big-time shots to seal the deal vs. WF, but the biggest thing was his attitude…..he kept it positive even when things weren’t going well for the Cards.
After the game, Chris Jones told Paul Rogers on the radio “We are more focused now and we know what we need to do to win a national championship…and I’m all in.” Coach Pitino added, “I told Chris, if you just listen you’ll be the best point guard in the league.” Jones obviously absorbed the lesson, and Pitino called the practice prior to Sunday’s game ‘one of the Top 3 of the season’. Now, can Louisville and Chris Jones stay positive throughout the course of the season? Through March? This was a good 1st step.
Louisville just can not allow opponents to shoot 32 foul shots like the Deacons did on Sunday night. The Cards struggled with foul trouble, including Chinanu Onuaku tallying 3 fouls in 1 minute in the 1st half. But key elements like Terry Rozier and Mangok Mathiang fouled out completely. The Cards won’t benefit through the ACC slate with teams shooting just 53% from the Free Throw line.
Dynamite Butt Wayne
Wayne Blackshear finished the game playing 20 minutes with 4 points, 1-3 from the field, 1 rebound, 3 fouls, and a steal. Coach Pitino said of Wayne to Learfield Sports Radio’s Bob Valvano “I think we have 3 really good players. We have to get more energy from Wayne Blackshear, we’ve got to get dynamite in his butt.”
In that same interview with Valvano, Pitino spoke of freshman Shaqquan Aaron who played 23 minutes scoring 11 points on 4-9 shooting with 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal, “He is an active participant, fear of failure is the worst thing for a ball player and he has no fear.”
Pitino’s comments are interesting and by no means coincidental. Wayne Blackshear has a bad habit of going invisible during long stretches….even games. Pitino’s best teams have had very productive Small Forwards from Francisco Garcia, Terrence Williams, Luke Hancock….right now Wayne Blackshear, a SENIOR, playing 20 minutes and attempting just 3 shots isn’t attempting enough production for Pitino’s system. Coach Pitino will not have a black hole at the small forward spot and if Wayne doesn’t begin to assert himself he’ll be more likely to live more and more with Shaqquan Aaron’s defense.
The 5 spot
UGLY. Anas Mahmoud had a nice stretch passing the ball and tallied 3 assists, but there is no way Anas Mahmoud should be starting for this basketball team. Great talent, great potential, but not physically ready. I do think it is telling that Mahmoud is starting over Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku despite his inexperience and lack of body type. Pitino has discussed Mahmoud’s acceptance of coaching several times throughout the season and that’s interesting because of what he is NOT saying…….
Mangok and Chinanu both have body types that are ready to play big-time college basketball. Mangok fouled out. Chinanu had 3 fouls in a minute in the 1st half. Mathiang gives great energy, but personally I think Onuaku’s slide down the depth chart has a great deal to do with maturity and ‘acceptance of coaching’.
For the game, Louisville’s Center position tallied 36 minutes, 0 points, 0-1 FG, 7 rebs, 3 assists, 10 PFs, 3 blocks, 2 steals…..THAT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Winning Conference road games are HARD and Winston-Salem is no cakewalk. Last season, the Demon Deacons finished 17-16 but took down Duke, North Carolina, and Notre Dame on the Wake Forest home court. This is the ACC and wins are not going to be easy. Getting out of this game with a win was huge. Terry Rozier must stay out of foul trouble, Montrezl Harrell really needs to work the block a little more even when defenders are denying him the ball.
Clemson comes in on Wednesday and are coming off a 24-point loss at home vs. the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tigers have beaten Arkansas this year, but this is the last game for awhile that Louisville can reasonably assume a victory. After Clemson, the Cards have: @ North Carolina, vs. Virginia Tech, vs. Duke, @ Pitt, @ Boston College, vs. North Carolina, @ Miami, @ Virginia….and on and on. In other words…it’s about to get real….really fast.