Who starts and who comes off of the bench has never been important to Louisville coach Rick Pitino. That was evident in No. 6 Louisville’s 77 – 62 win over No. 16 Indiana in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Pitino started Anas Mahmoud in place of Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding in place of Jaylen Johnson, and most surprisingly V. J. King in place of Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell has struggled with his shot for most of the year, at times hunting shots and forgetting the other things that make him a great ball player. Today, Mitchell showed Pitino and the fans what they were getting out of high school. Mitchell scored a career high 25 points and grabbed three rebounds.
Elite athleticism has always been Mitchell’s calling card, but this season he has played not only below the rim, but has not taken the ball to the basket on a regular basis. Four of Mitchell’s eight made field goals were layups to go along with four made three pointers. Pitino had one request of Mitchell when asked if he wanted to see him drive the ball more saying, “I want you to just play with no fear of missing, and if he’s 0 for 7, I want him to go 0 for 10.” I don’t think Mitchell wants to go 0 for 10, but I think the point was made.
Mahmoud was a big difference on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he controlled the paint. He finished with three blocks, but altered countless others. Anytime a Hoosier player entered in the paint he had to think twice when Mahmoud was in the game. Either the shot was blocked, altered, or the Indiana player retreated back.
Adel started, but Pitino threatened to bench him as well if he didn’t change his ways. Adel was the most confident in his game as he has been this season. He finished with 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
With U of L leading 25 – 24 with 4:59 left in the first half, the Cards went on a 12 – 0 run fueled by eight points by Adel. He nailed a long jumper and hit two three pointers during the run. The Cards would lead 39 – 27 at the half.
Indiana would cut the Cards lead to as low as six in the second half, but could get no closer. Two free throws by Robert Johnson cut the Cards’ lead to 50 – 44 with 11:50 remaining, but Mitchell hit a three and a layup on back-to-back possessions to put the Cards ahead 58 – 47.
Every time the Hoosiers cut in to the lead, it was Mitchell who was the go-to guy the Cards have been lacking. With the score at 58 – 51 Adel hit two free throws and then Mitchell hit another three and a layup give U of L a 14 point lead.
Shooting, which has been an issue for the Cards this season, was not an issue against Indiana. The Cards shot 52.9 percent from the field and hit 8 of their 19 three point attempts. They also made 15 of their 18 free throw attempts.
The U of L defense held a good shooting Indiana team to 32.2 percent shooting. The Hoosiers made only 4 of their 21 three pointers for 19 percent.
James Blackmon, averaging 17.9 points, was held to only 10, but did grab 11 rebounds. OG Anunoby led the Hoosiers with 14 points off of the bench.
In his postgame press conference Pitino raved about how his team played saying, “So we really are proud of this victory, but most important, you have no idea the stress Indiana can put on a team with the way they pin drive, pass, and do the things they’re capable of doing, but our guys really were great at the defensive end tonight, and they were not only highly, highly intelligent but they did a lot of great things, as well, on offense. They passed the ball extremely well.”
The Cards go on the road to face the always tough No. 24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Wednesday at 9:00.