October 13, 2012
Red over White in Cards' first scrimmage
The Louisville basketball season is officially underway. Saturday's Red-White Scrimmage marked the start of a year that has very high expectations. Led by freshman Montrezl Harrell's 17 points and 10 rebounds, the Red Team was impressive, beating the White Team 74-58. Sophomore Chane Behanan paced the outmanned White squad with 24 points and 22 rebounds. Coach Rick Pitino praised his team's effort and conditioning, but admitted there is much more work ahead as the team prepares for the season opener.
Coach Rick Pitino's opening statement to the media on Saturday's scrimmage:
"For a first day, I thought the Red Team was very well organized, and looked like a really good team in terms of distributing the basketball. The other end of that is that the White Team didn't look very well organized. That's what these games are for is to look at things that you like, and things that you need to work on".
A Team Divided
The Red Team consisted of the starters if the season were to begin today. Montrezl Harrell, Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva, Kevin Ware, Wayne Blackshear, Mangok Mathiang and walk-on Logan Baumann. The team was coached by assistants Wyking Jones, Kareem Richardson and Doug Davenport.
The Red Team had five players in double figures scoring. Blackshear had 13, Dieng and Siva each had 12 and Ware pitched in 11 points.
The White Team started Angel Nunez, Chane Behanan, Zach Price, Russ Smith and Luke Hancock. Coming off the bench was Stephan Van Treese and walk-ons Michael Baffour and Tim Henderson. The squad was coached by Kevin Keatts and Andre McGee.
Behanan had to do most of the heavy lifting himself as Russ Smith was the only other player to score in double figures. Smith has 12 points, five rebounds and four assists. The rest of the team combined for just 22 points.
A tale of two Sivas
Much of the Cards' success this season will likely depend on the play of senior point guard Peyton Siva. As the team witnessed last season, as Siva goes, so go the Cards. He's the engine of the team.
As a junior, Siva struggled mightily through most of the regular season before a seemingly overnight transformation in the post-season. He was the catalyst that sparked the Cards magical run to winning the Big East Championship en route to the Final Four.
It's critical that Siva start the season on a positive note and carry the momentum through the year. For the Cards' to live up to their No. 1 preseason ranking, he must assume the leadership role he carried throughout the tourney last year.
If Saturday's outing was any indication, Siva looks to be trending in the right direction. He played nearly the entire scrimmage (37 minutes) and was credited for 12 points and six assists. After the scrimmage, I asked Siva what his goals were for his final year as a Cardinal. He said he didn't set any personal goals, but his team goal is to be the leader Coach Pitino wants and to "return to the Final Four, but go one game further".
The opening scrimmage also gave fans the first opportunity to see the team's several new players Making their first appearances in Cardinal uniforms was Luke Hancock, Michael Baffour, Montrezl Harrell, Mangok Mathiang and Logan Baumann.
Harrell was definitely the star of the show. The former Virginia Tech commitment looks to be an immediate contributor. His 17 points and 10 rebounds doesn't do justice to his play. He crashed the boards constantly, bodied up all game against Behanan and dunked with ferociousness.
Of course it is still early (two practices into the season), but Harrell should see big minutes this year. Pitino expects him to backup both Behanan and Dieng.
Hancock Praised By Pitino
Hancock gave the Cardinal crowd a scare when he collided at midcourt and immediately grabbed his shoulder. He was assisted off the court by trainer Fred Hina, but returned to the game just minutes later. He did not play the last few minutes though as Hina iced the shoulder. Hancock has had issues with the shoulder in the past and Pitino said due to scar tissue, he still has pain and soreness in the area.
Pitino praised Hancock after the game.
"I think Luke is terrific. Every time he jams his shoulder, he has scar tissue that hurts. He falls and then he dives on the floor, then he comes back and tries to draw a charge, so a pretty tough kid, very tough kid. Most kids would have been out another 1-2 months, but he's come back, really, really tough young man. In another month's time, he is going to be a really good basketball player and we need him to play backup point guard. He'll play that because he understands the game, and he sees the game well."
Hancock struggled shooting, hitting just 2-of-9 shots and 1-of-7 threes. He was active in other areas though, getting eight rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Behanan is obviously improved from last year and seems to be more comfortable on the floor. Not only was he a beast on the boards, but he had a series of nasty dunks. He had one before halftime that rocked the Yum Center and posterized Kevin Ware. And while Behanan would probably not admit it, he's definitely being pushed by the addition of Harrell. The two players are similar in size and skill set and to practice against each other every day is going to be great for both of them.
Angel Nunez struggled most of the night, hitting just 2-of-10 shots and looking lost on defense. His struggles started before tipoff when he lined up in the wrong place after his name was called in team introductions. Pitino had one of the best quotes, after Nunez missed an acrobatic layup, and yelled "Angel, let Russ take the ridiculous shots".
Louisville went through the regular pre-game introductions and Chane Behannan, Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva were the obvious fan favorites. The crowd also loved the new, revised pregame introduction video that features Pitino speaking to the team on the history of the program and the passion of the Cardinal fan base.
Mangok Mathiang looks to have potential. The big man scored nine points and grabbed 7 rebounds in his 12 minutes of play. For the record, Mathiang outscored and outrebounded fellow big men Stephan Van Treese and Zach Price combined.
Pitino has hinted that Mathiang may redshirt this year, but his addition to the team has value. He's of the same mold of Gorgui Dieng in that he's very slim and probably needs to add 30 pounds of muscle. If he has Dieng's work ethic and attitude, Pitino may have found a gem.
The team taped a "Get Well" moment for Mike Marra during a break in the game. The camera crew panned the entire arena as fans cheered in support. Marra underwent surgery on Thursday for his season-ending knee injury and is still recovering in the hospital.
Fans openly booed a guy who chose to wear a blue Kentucky shirt to the game. The booing started in the fan's section and only intensified as announcer Sean Moth singled him out while he was shown on the video board. Well done, Cardinal fans.
It may have been an all Cardinal scrimmage, but that didn't stop Behanan from playing with passion. He wasn't afraid to scuffle for a loose ball in the first half and was also seen talking trash to guard Siva and Ware during the second. When asked about hard feelings of the trash talk, sophomore Wayne Blackshear laughed it off and said that just shows what a competitor Behanan is no matter the competition.
The announced crowd was 10,355. Not bad for a football school.
Return to the Nest
The scrimmage coincided with U of L's "Return to the Nest" Homecoming on Main festivities, which include fan activities and a brief pep rally on the Norton Healthcare Plaza of the KFC Yum! Center prior to the game.
The football team's win over Pittsburgh was shown live on the plaza video screen and marked the official kickoff to Homecoming Week. The university also provided posters that paid tribute to UofL's past success as one of college basketball's top programs.
Also included as part of the festivities was a drawing to win a trip for two to follow the Cardinals' men's basketball team to the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis, a prestigious tournament played at the famed Atlantis resort.
Freshman forward Montrezl Harrell on his performance leading the Red Team:
"Well, I have been practicing with them all week, so I have been getting the feel of it, like how Peyton (Siva) wants things ran or how Gorgui (Dieng) likes to get the ball in the post. So, for me to get into an organized game, I think that I did pretty well."
Junior Luke Hancock on the play he jammed his shoulder:
"I just stretched it out a little further than I would have liked. It hurt for a minute, but it calmed down after going through a couple of tests and then I was ready to go. Coach took me out of the game a little bit early, but I got out there for basically three quarters of it and I'm ready to go; I feel good. It was a loose ball and I shouldn't have dove for the ball at this point. I should have just let it go and when I dove for it my arm became a little more extended than I would like."
Mini Season Ticket Packages On Sale
A limited number of tickets are available in a seven-game package for $262 including the following games: Dec. 29 vs. Kentucky, Jan. 2 vs. Providence, Jan. 12 vs. USF, Jan. 28 vs. Pittsburgh, Feb. 14 vs. St. John's, Feb. 23 vs. Seton Hall and March 4 vs. Cincinnati. There is a limit of four per person for each package.
A four-game package for $100 includes the Cardinals' two exhibition games -- Nov. 1 vs. Pikeville and Nov. 7 vs. Bellarmine -- as well as the Nov. 15 Battle 4 Atlantis opening game against Samford and the Dec. 19 Billy Minardi Classic against Florida International.
Coming Up Next
If you missed Saturday's scrimmage, there are still two more opportunities to watch the Cards' in the preseason. Coach Rick Pitino's team will next be in action on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m.
Tickets, priced at $10 for lower side and corner arena seats and $5 for end zone seats, are currently on sale at both U of L Ticket Offices, located near Gate 2 of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium off Floyd Street; and on the third floor of the Swain Student Activities Center. Cardinal fans may also purchase tickets by visiting Ticketmaster online.
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