In this age of hyperbole people, especially sports fans, are inclined to speak with exaggeration.
That’s the best ever. He’s the worst.
So and so played his best game of the season in the second half against Whatchmacallit A&M. Youknowwho couldn’t hit a jumper if his life depended on it, he’s the worst.
I’m as guilty as anybody.
But I’m going there this time around in the wake of U of L’s second half meltdown against Baylor, during which the Cards blew a 15 point halftime lead, losing by three, 66-63.
There’s one more caveat before I make my point.
As much as I think I know about basketball, as closely as I observe every dribble, back cut and sneeze of every U of L Cardinal down to whether Ray Ganong has a firm hold on the timeout stools, I realize that Rick Pitino knows more. Much more.
He’s in the Hall of Fame. He’s coached two national champs. He’s generally recognized as one of the best now and best ever. He sees these guys every day in practice.
So, as much as I sometimes question his moves or motives, as much as I occasionally disagree with how he prepares this squad or coaches in game, I keep it to myself. He knows more. Much more.
That said, there’s always a first time.
While he himself obviously didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t fail to get back on defense, didn’t block out, didn’t take a bad shot or short arm one, this loss is squarely on Rick Pitino.
One guy’s opinion, it’s his worst coached game during his stay at Louisville.
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Quentin Snider was so gassed he could hardly keep his eyes open. Yet Pitino never gave him a blow in the second half.
Donovan Mitchell was so weary that on any number of second half offensive possessions he parked himself along the sideline and numbly watched the action. He only got to sit for a couple of minutes after halftime.
But I am not for a second blaming either of these two, who were essentially Louisville’s offense with 17 and 14 respectively.
Pitino, who claims to have his deepest Cardinal team ever, apparently never sensed the diminishment of their skills after the break. Otherwise he might have granted them a rest, inserting for a minute or two David Levitch or Ryan McMahon or even Tony Hicks, who he’s apparently given up on.
Another example is his use of Deng Adel. Perhaps my readers aren’t as skeptical of him as I am. But, he was 1/9 from the field, and still played 30 minutes. He failed to find his spot when Mitchell drove and threw it there for an open jumper. Turnover. He failed to catch the ball in a final sequence when Mitchell drove and dished. Turnover.
Meanwhile his replacement, V.J. King, a Golden Arches All-American chomping at the bit to prove his mettle, had what could have been a game surviving stint shortcircuited by The Rick’s quick hook.
About midway through the second half, the Bears cut the Cardinal lead to single digits after an 8-0 run. King immediately netted a deuce. Baylor again cut the lead. King immediately answered with a trey for a 51-40 lead.
The Bears continued their onslaught. King missed a jumper, but it was a good going for the win shot, within the offense, as out of sorts as the O was by then.
Then he threw a bad pass, stolen by Baylor.
Out came the hook. Pitino, failing to realize that even though he’s a rookie, and even though he makes some mistakes, the kid’s a baller, a go to guy, and he had fresh legs. And wanted it. The Rick pulled him. King never saw another second of action.
Mangok Mathiang, as much as we love him for his maturity and leadership, is a severe offensive liability. And he gets beat on the defensive end a lot, even if he gets his teammates in the right spot to guard.
Jaylen Johnson hits the boards, though not beastly. And can score, mostly on follow shots. But his post moves are mediocre.
Yet, when the game mattered, when Baylor had all the momentum, Pitino had MM and JJ on the floor instead of the longer, leaner, more agile, more defensively effective Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud. Both of whom were playing great ball in the Bahamas. Without the latter duo in the lineup, U of L had zero inside scoring presence.
Or defense actually. With five or so to play, Baylor pulled even, hitting 13 of 15 shots. While Louisville, with only very tired or ineffective offensive players on the court was 2/13.
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Louisville’s short turnarounds — yes, shorter than Baylor’s — resulted in a tired, tired team in the second half of the title tilt.
Yet Rick Pitino failed to play fresher, better players, which hastened and fueled Baylor’s comeback W.
Hell, if he’d have gone to basic 2-3 zone for a trip or two, the players could have stolen a breath. But no.
So, I’ll repeat. Rick Pitino is a great coach. He has — as we say — forgotten more than I’ll ever know.
But I’ll also stand by my heresy. He coached an awful game today, and I blame him not the players for the loss which never should have happened.
— Seedy K