Russ Smith had a bad practice and being a leader that understands his teams’ needs he asked Coach Pitino to bring him off the bench. Russdiculous is becoming Russwiser saying after the game, “I care about how we finih the season, I care about our morale.”
Clearly, Russ Smith is showing his maturity as a leader and empathy for the newcomers trying to find their place in a new program. The message: “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you aren’t playing well you don’t get to start.”
That includes Russ Smith, Louisville’s 1st Team All-American 26th Career Scorer, Regional MVP, National Champion. Russ went on in his explanation: “This is a different year, it’s like going from a 5-star hotel to a regular hotel. We will get there but we just have to put in the work. We had a late start, had injuries, had off the court-issues. It’s not an excuse. No one cares about our problems. But they do care about the result.”
Tonight, Louisville rolled a 1-6 over-matched Missouri-Kansas City team coached by former Louisville assistant Kareem Richardson. It’s a game that’s hard to learn much about the Cardinals. Coach Rick Pitino in post-game was frustrated with his team being beaten off the dribble, but praised the effort of Chane Behanan who came off the bench and finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds, 1 block , and 2 steals.
There is some areas to be encouraged. Chris Jones continues to be a very solid addition at the point guard position. Terry Rozier got a valuable 15 minutes and just needs to learn how to ‘be quick but don’t hurry.” Russ Smith showed leadership & Both Power Forwards (Chane Behanan & Montrezl Harrell) turned in expected solid performances that helped out-rebound UMKC 49-29 and turnover the Kangaroos 20 times.
The Cards still need more production out of the Small Forward position. Wayne Blackshear finished the night 1-7 with 7 points, 1 rebound, and 2 assists, while Luke Hancock was 2-11 with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 steals. The combined 3-18 shooting from the 3-spot is certainly concerning and it’s a major area of opportunity for the Cards. The main thing for Hancock is just to keep shooting. Pitino said after, “You wouldn’t believe it but he hits everything in practice.” Luke himself “I know I can hit shots, I’ll just keep shooting.” That’s great for Hancock, but Wayne Blackshear is not coming back from injury and while he has at times looked more aggressive this season the main question is production. When is Blackshear going to produce in 2013-14? Both of these players do not need to emerge, just one of them needs to take the mantle over. That’s the good news.
At the Center spot, the biggest issue is just playing fundamentally. Stephan Van Treese & Mangok Mathiang often get lost in the rotation giving up easy baskets underneath. Mathiang is the shot blocker and Van Treese is the workhorse. Tonight they combined for 7 rebounds, 7 points, 2 turnovers, 1 block, in 32 minutes. That’s just not getting it done. But again the good news is that this is the time to learn.
The next opponent, Louisiana Lafayette is a nice step up from UMKC. The Ragin Cajuns are not upper echelon but they are a well-coached team with athletes that Louisville’s emerging groups can cut their teeth on and learn from. That’s what this team needs. They need some confidence, but more than anything they need minutes. After Saturday’s game the Cards take a needed week off to go into the lab and work on a few things. If you are fan tonight, you probably have some worries. But there is plenty to be encouraged about as well. Coach Pitino is focusing on that, Louisville is focusing on that, and Russ Smith and his new found wisdom will shepherd the Cardinals in the right direction.