Well, it may not have been pretty, but a 15-point conference win on the road without your star power forward is nothing to complain about, either. It was arguably one of the Cards’ worst performances of the last 6 weeks or so, but even when they are not at their best, this team is nearly impossible to beat. Despite off games from Russ Smith and Wayne Blackshear, Louisville capitalized on big games from Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell to take down Seton Hall and former Louisville assistant coach Kevin Willard.
Gorgui Dieng. When Gorgui broke his wrist and missed a significant amount of time, this team grew as a unit as guys like Harrell and Stephan Van Treese got to experience big time minutes. The team began to play extremely well without him, but if anyone forgot how valuable he is to this team, he has quickly reminded them since his return. Scoring 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in 33 minutes of play, Dieng was very clearly the best player on the court Wednesday night. He also contributed 3 blocks, 2 assists, once again showed off his mid-range from the elbow and went 8 of 8 from the line. Good to have you back, Gorgs.
Kevin Ware. Ware did not exactly burst off the stat sheet with gaudy numbers, but when U of L could not find a bucket to save their lives, looking confused by the zone D Seton Hall was laying on them, Ware was the player that got the Cards going as he was able to break through the zone for a few buckets. He still is not the player we heard about dominating practices all summer, but his talents are very obvious. His length is a nightmare matchup for any backcourt player, and his speed is too much for frontcourt players. If he can consistently figure out how to cut through the lane and take his guy off the dribble, he will become yet another weapon for the Cards come March.
Montrezl Harrell. Stepping in for an injured Chane Behanan, the freshman big man put his aggressiveness and strength inside on full display. It has been a long while since U of L has had a player this dangerous in the paint on the offensive end of the floor. He takes it up strong every time and is not afraid of any opposition he faces. He was second in scoring behind Dieng with 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting and completely controlled the offensive paint. He also contributed his usual earth shaking dunks. If there is one area he still needs a bit of seasoning, it is on the defensive end of the court, especially when it comes to rebounding. He only managed 3 on Wednesday night and came under fire with Pitino a few times. Regardless, he continues to prove what a steal he was for this team.
Free throws. What has been such a struggle for Pitino-coached Louisville teams is quietly becoming one of this team’s strengths. They were 85% from the line, going 23 of 27. While Monrezl missed both of his attempts, the only others to miss were Russ Smith and Luke Hancock. Hancock went 1 of 2 and Russ went 7 of 8. While in years past, fans would moan in frustration and disgust if a game came down to having to match free throws, it is a part of the game in which they can now feel confident. Chances are U of L will be in a close game sooner or later, and their success from the line will be a difference maker.
Offense against the zone. This team is too good and too seasoned to continue to get lost in a zone D. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is frustrating to watch. There were way too many sloppy turnovers and wasted possessions in the first half and a little bit in the second half. When the outside shots were not falling, they appeared to get a bit confused (credit Kevin Willard for a great coaching job). It seemed to affect the rest of their game as well for a stretch, as short, easy shots were continuously missed.
Russ Smith. I love Russ. You love Russ. Everybody loves Russ. That being said, when he is not scoring, he begins to get frustrated and playing sloppy. It is very obvious he hates it when he is not scoring, but when he is not, he has to keep a cool head and do what he can to help the team. The points will come, especially for him. However, when he forces shots when he is frustrated, it negatively impacts the team. He is arguably the best guard in the nation (still feels weird saying that), but even he can have an off night. When that happens, he just needs to take a deep breath and let the game come to him.
Wayne Blackshear. Brent said in his piece, “The only person in his way at this point is himself.” That statement is right on the money. Wayne still appears to be searching for his game, and I am not sure why. He has arguably the most ability of any small forward on the court every game he plays in. He has shown flashes of stardom this year in different games, but he just cannot seem to get in that mindset consistently and continues to fall back into the spot-up shooter role. That is not and should not be his role. I would say it is a huge disservice to the rest of his talents, but that would be the biggest understatement of the year. It is nice to see him starting to hit them with regularity, but he is so much more than that. Remember that dunk against Kentucky in the Final Four where he took it straight to the whole and faked out Anthony Davis? THAT is what I would like to see more of. When he starts to play that game to go along with his outside shooting ability, he could become unguardable.
Laphonso Ellis. Back in the day, Laphonso Ellis was the basketball card you got in just about every pack you bought. Seriously, Topps, Skybox, etc. could not make enough Laphonso Ellis cards. He was a decent player, but no one wanted his cards that bad. He was also the pride alum of Atron Junior High School, the fictional school in the Secret World of Alex Mack on Nickelodeon. I never quite understood that growing up. Anyway, now he is an ESPN analyst and was just…awful. Now, he was not really saying anything completely stupid or anything, but he just seemed WAY too happy to be there. Every time Mike Patrick would attempt to make a joke, Laphonso would laugh like a corporate kiss-ass trying to get a promotion from his boss. He then would crack a joke himself and just about wet himself. Nothing is that funny, Laphonso.