A great start to the 2010-11 season for the Cards. Even though Butler is not the same team that was an inch away from beating the Dukies for the National Title, they are still a solid squad and for the most part, UofL handled them.
The main thing I was looking for in this game was if the style of play we heard about, and saw during the two exhibition games, would continue. Even though Butler would not participate in an up and down free for all, I was anxious to see if the Cards would still attempt to quicken the pace.
Even with an opponent who likes to work the clock, the Cards pushed the ball up the court. I remember many instances in which Butler would force UofL to play half-court defense, miss the shot, and as soon as a Cardinal player had the rebound, the team would bust it down the floor.
I was extremely pleased to see that because it could be very tempting for a coach to not try to push the tempo with an unwilling, well-schooled opponent. Instead, Rick Pitino stuck with his style and pushed the action.
Don’t kid yourself, that was critical to this game because Butler did get caught up in the fast pace a few times which resulted in quick shots, something they did not want to do.
Another thing I was paying a lot of attention to was how Rick would coach. Rick said many times during the preseason he would have to live with more mistakes than he has in recent years and let his guys play through them. At least through one game, he has done that.
I made it a point to watch Rick during the game, particularly after a turnover or defensive lapse, to see what his reaction would be. He is not coaching any less hard, he is still very intense, but he definitely let up on the quick trigger he’s had in recent years after a mistake.
Also, Rick has been much more positive so far this year. There were several times I saw Rick clapping his hands and encouraging his players after mistakes, which has not been common the past few years.
A prime example against Butler involved Terrence Jennings. Very, very late, with the Cards up by about 12 or 14 points and under 2 minutes to play, TJ pointlessly fouled a Butler player. I thought mount Rick would erupt.
Instead, Rick just stood there. When he pulled TJ a short time later to let the fans give him a nice ovation, Rick gave him a supportive clap and congratulatory slap on the rear end. It was almost like Rick decided to let it go and focus on the fact TJ had a pretty good game.
I was extremely encouraged to see that occur.
Which brings me to my overall opinion of the game: very encouraged. Regardless of where you think Butler should be ranked, they are a solid squad and much better than the type of team most big schools open up against. Louisville handled them pretty easily.
In the first half, the Cards gave us a glimpse of the type of team they can be. The best part is, they will continue to get better.
That said, I don’t think we should immediately make bold claims about how much this team can accomplish. Personally, I want to see them play several more games before I reassess mine, but they look to have greater potential than I thought going into the year.
As far as individual performances go, I think Rakeem Buckles was the player of the game. Rock had 17 points and 11 rebounds, but more importantly, when the Cards got into that second half funk, he was the one who got them out of it.
Rock scored two field goals to break up what would have been a nine minute drought from the field for Louisville. If he doesn’t do that, who knows how the game turns out. We wondered going into the game, if the Cards need a big bucket, who do they go to? At least against Butler, it was Rakeem Buckles.
While you could say Rock was the player of the game, Elisha Justice was the most valuable. With starter Peyton Siva in foul trouble, Justice came in and the Cards did not skip a beat. The Bullet ran the point extremely well and came up with some huge plays, most notably on the pick and roll dunk to TJ which nearly blew the roof off the KFC Yum! Center.
Elisha scored 12 points, grabbed 6 tough boards, and dished out 2 assists, but it was more his toughness and the way he ran the offense that stood out to me. He was definitely not intimidated and played with poise pretty uncommon for freshmen.
Just think back to last season and how our freshmen played, then contrast it to how Justice was last night and it’s pretty remarkable. Pitino has said he thinks Elisha can be another Travis Ford…
I’ll take it.
I also thought Mike Marra was solid. He finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He did take some questionable shots, but I like the aggressive attitude and he actually played pretty good defense. Mike looks like a completely different player and I think could find himself in the starting line-up before too long.
On the flip side, Peyton Siva did not have his best outing. As Rick said in the postgame, he’s just committing too many silly fouls. He’s reaching in and grabbing, rather than moving his feet and playing defense.
I really think he’ll be fine. Keep in mind, he’s going from a part-time player to full-time. There’s going to be an adjustment period. He’ll get there.
The Cards return to the floor Saturday night as they put their undefeated record on the line against Jackson State at 7:30. Carl H. will be here later in the week with a preview.