By Beau Kilpatrick—
The No. 13 Louisville Cardinals’ second exhibition game against the Knights of Bellarmine University provided a glimpse of what’s to come this season and a want for needed improvement.
The Cardinals’ defense dominated the Knights. They held Bellarmine to 17 points in the first half, 10 of which came from free throws. Pitino’s defense suffocated the Knights, stingily holding them to a measly 18.8 shooting percentage from the field.
“The first half [defense] was excellent; good rotations, we weren’t getting beat off the bounce. We were challenging shots,” Pitino said.
Jaylen Johnson was a beast in the paint with seven rebounds at halftime. However, he struggled to convert rebounds into points, collecting only two points on five attempts under the rim.
Ray Spalding’s off-season improvements showed as he forced two blocks and had a steal in only six minutes of the first half. He only played 14 minutes due to committing three fouls.
The frontcourt for Louisville continued to struggle scoring on second-chance points off of offensive rebounds. Mangok Mathiang finished with five rebounds and two points and Anas Mahmoud gathered six rebounds with only two points. The Cards shot nearly 53 percent in the first half and only 41.9 in the second.
Bellarmine’s shooting improved drastically in the second half. They shot 54.3 percent in the second half; which was much better than the 18.8 percent in the first. Pitino contributed this shift to inexperience and communication.
“It just shows you the inexperience of this team, they didn’t know how to play with a lead. We’ve got a lot of weaknesses that we need to work on. But inexperience is the one thing that you don’t get until you go through it, and we’ve got to go through it.” Pitino said, “In the second half we stopped communicating. We were active with our hands, we were talking, and then we just broke down. We just came out flat.”
Louisville’s defensive big men remained impressive throughout, even though the box score could have looked more impressive. Jaylen Johnson led the team with 11 rebounds. Spalding contributed two steals and a pair of blocks for the Cardinals’ defense.
The Cardinals secured an 81-60 victory over the Knights but Pitino suggests that his squad needs much more improvement if they want to succeed.
“If we play like that against Evansville or William & Mary, we won’t come away with a victory. If we play like the first half, we’ll come away with a lot of victories,” said Pitino.