Getting ready to address the sparsely-attended Barclays Center press room after another triumph in the city he grew up in, once coached in for many years and has accumulated a bevy of wins on both the collegiate and professional level, the last thing we were expecting Rick Pitino to say once he settled into his chair was a reference to, arguably, the greatest college basketball team of all time – especially after a game against a team that had gone 11-21 the previous season.
But that’s exactly what happened after Louisville stayed undefeated after their fairly routine victory over the Billikens in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational, as Pitino mentioned how refreshing it was to see an opponent play like a team from yesteryear.
“Tonight, was as unique of a game that I have coached in in a while,” started Pitino. “Their [Saint Louis] squad reminds me of the 1976 Indiana team under Bob Knight, and all of the motion and the type of cuts they made. It’s not something that we see a whole lot in college basketball these days, and they’re well coached.”
It just so happens that one of the players on the 1976 Hoosiers team – the last team to finish a season undefeated in Division I college basketball – is Jim Crews, the current head coach of the Saint Louis Billikens. And for that first half, his offense, straight from the Bob Knight model of motion offense, gave the Cardinals’ pressure defense fits, leading for much of the first half.
They were paced in the first 20 minutes by guard Mike Crawford, one of four players to average double figures on the Billikens, as he hit all four of his shots in the first half – including three three-pointers.
But as the game wore on, the Billikens wore down against the full-court pressure of the Cardinals, as Louisville used three turnovers forced in succession early in the second half to launch an 18-4 run to take control of the game after being only up three at halftime.
Four players scored in double figures for the Cardinals, led by Cleveland State graduate transfer Trey Lewis, who had 22 points.
Along with the pressure, Louisville took advantage of their size advantage inside. The Cardinals grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, which was just one rebound shy of Saint Louis’ total rebounding haul this evening. Mangok Mathiang, who grabbed seven of those offensive rebounds, finished with his first career double-double, with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Louisville now takes a step up in class, as the Cardinals’ next game will be on Wednesday against No. 3 Michigan State, the team that eliminated Louisville in overtime last March in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight matchup in Syracuse.
[Cover photo (Mangok Mathiang) courtesy of USA Today Sports]