By Beau Kilpatrick—
The No. 11 Louisville Cardinals smashed the Southern Illinois Salukis 51-74 at the YUM! Center Wednesday night.
Louisville came into the game showcasing a much-improved frontcourt. Ray Spalding and V.J. King are each coming off of a 14-point game against Grand Canyon State, with Deng Adel putting up 15 points over the weekend against GCU. Anas Mahmoud is still out due to a concussion that he suffered against Purdue on Nov. 30.
Mangok Mathiang started off hot, scoring four points in the first minute of the game. He would finish with 15 points and six rebounds. Stockman came off the bench to provide two rebounds and seven points to round out the center position. Jaylen Johnson complimented Mathiang’s performance after the game.
“Mangok dominated in the paint. Every time he touched it, he made something happen,” Johnson said.
But it was the dominant performance by Louisville’s forwards that is most impressive. Jaylen Johnson had nine points, Deng Adel contributed 12, and Ray Spalding put up eight. They continue to improve each week. Collectively, the trio collected 26 rebounds, blocked seven shots, had three steals and put up 29 points. Once you add in the 22 points from the U of L center, the frontcourt produced 51 total points.
The Louisville defense continued to be impressive during their domination of the Salukis. The Cards held Southern Illinois to 35 percent overall shooting and forced 17 turnovers.
The Cards are ninth in the country with 44.1 rebounds per game and tenth with 59 blocks. Donovan Mitchell leads the ACC with 2.4 steals per game. Mahmoud is third in the conference for blocks, putting up 2.1 per game. However, Pitino demands more from his defense.
“I don’t think they’re that good defensively at all, to be honest with you. I don’t think we’re great at anything. We hope to get there though, in a hurry before the next two weeks,” said Pitino.
The big guys seem to have improved drastically since their loss to Baylor in the Battle for Atlantis. Their percentage of shots from the paint is improving, they seem to be fighting harder for rebounds, and the explosiveness on both sides of the ball is much improved. Spalding is second in the ACC with a 66.7 field goal percentage and Johnson is fifth in the conference with 62.1 percent.
Mathiang got the crowd going with his electric start in the first half. Jaylen Johnson ignited the crowd at the YUM! with six blocks. This was a career high for Johnson at U of L. “I didn’t even know I had six blocks,” Johnson said. His eyes were constantly targeting the ball and he seemed to create a block every time the fans quieted down.
Spalding scored on monster dunks for six of his eight points. After the game Spalding mentioned how the Louisville crowd pumped him up after the first two dunks and made him eager for his third. “The crowd plays a key component in any basketball game. We went to Grand Canyon and that crowd was crazy, you know. The crowd really helps build on your character throughout the basketball game,” said Spalding.
It appears that the U of L big-men are taking this team into their hands to ensure victories. Amazing efforts by Mathiang, Spalding, Johnson, and Adel are going to be key components if the Cardinals are to have any deep season success.