Russ Smith and 4 Impressive Season Debuts for the Louisville Cardinals
The Louisville Cardinals escaped their home opener with a 22-point victory against the College of Charleston Cougars. I say “escaped” because it wasn’t until seven minutes remained in the game that Louisville distanced itself from a Cougar squad it demolished by 42 in 2012.
The first half at the KFC Yum! Center started horrid for both teams, as they shot less than 40 percent from the field. Even though the defending champs had a less-than-impressive start to their season, they rebounded (no pun intended) nicely in the second half.
Shooting the deep ball was a struggle with last season’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Luke Hancock, sitting out with an injured Achilles.
Luckily, new Cardinal Chris Jones had no problem carrying some of that scoring load. Along with Jones, here are five players who had exceptional performances in the opener against the Cougars.
Stephan Van Treese
Did you see Stephan “The Beast” Van Treese out there? For those of you who didn’t, you missed out. That type of performance is what the Cardinals need throughout the season.
After the game was out of reach, Van Treese (along with other Cards players) went to the bench accompanied by an enormous roar. He finished the game with six points, eight boards, three steals and two blocks. What’s missing from that box score is the 24 minutes of heart and hustle he brought.
Van Treese covered the entire floor like the lights that lit the arena.
His hustle and determination on the boards and on defense were a big help—especially since Gorgui Dieng is not in town to patrol the paint.
It would have been a bit “Russdiculous” for Russ Smith to not make it here for his performance in the season-opener.
The preseason All-American was instant offense as usual for the Cardinals, pouring in 21 points and five assists. However, Smith isn’t getting the nod for his play as much as he is for his leadership, which was on full display against the Cougars.
Through the early struggles, especially for Wayne Blackshear, who finished 3-of-14 in 37 minutes, Smith was there to encourage his teammates and reassure them that the slump would end. Indeed it did. The Cards outscored the Cougars 22-5 in the final seven minutes of the game. Nine of Smith’s 21 points came in those final seven minutes as he ignited that run.
Surely a performance like that is what coach Rick Pitino wants to see from his senior leader throughout the year.
Considering the freshman was tossed into the game early due to Stephan Van Treese’s foul trouble, he played very well and didn’t show too many jitters.
In his first game, Mangok Mathiang grabbed 10 boards to go along with seven points while pretty much splitting minutes with Van Treese (22 and 24 respectively).
Mathiang was a presence in the paint, altering shots with his stringy 6’10” frame and battling the bigs of C of C. He helped keep the Cougars off the glass and kept Louisville’s fast break going.
With Mathiang occupying the paint in Van Treese’s absence, the Cards' post may be better patrolled than last season. Also with the Louisville press and its ability to put points on the board—even with two key players missing—Mathiang may have given Pitino’s squad an extra dimension on defense that will assist the team down the road.
The sophomore forward had an all-around great Saturday, notching 10 points, eight rebounds, four steals and a rejection.
With a mountain of expectations on his shoulders, Montrezl Harrell will play an important role this year. He definitely lived up to those expectations Saturday.
Harrell scored off tip-ins, jumpers and, of course, a thunderous dunk. His defense also allowed him an easy two points off a great assist from Chris Jones.
Harrell played well against a team with various big men and showed signs that he will be able to hold his own with the bulky forwards he will see this season. Pitino needs Harrell to play energy-filled minutes and help drive the press.
After the win at home, Harrell revealed his game has improved since his freshman campaign.
The JUCO transfer showed Cardinals fans and teammates that he was worth the recruit.
Chris Jones was the only player who opened on a positive note as far as shooting goes. Jones began the game 3-of-6 with seven points. However, as the game proceeded he went 2-of-7 with five points.
But Pitino did not recruit him just because of his ability to score—there are plenty of other layers to his game.
Battling with the bigs of C of C, Jones pulled down six rebounds (three offensive, three defensive), two steals and handed out five dimes in his debut. This year’s Louisville squad has no shortage of talented guards; Jones’ performance reassures Russ Smith that he has plenty of backup in the backcourt.
Jones showed great court awareness and vision with each of his assists. Many of his passes had to be squeezed through defenders, and he managed to deliver them on target.
An impressive first game like this doesn’t mean it's an expectation for the remainder of the year, but now Jones' competition is aware of his game.