Louisville hosts first scrimmage
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville doesn't buy into midnight madness.
Confusion created by its defense is another matter, and Saturday's first Red-White scrimmage featured flashes of the trademark pressure that helped win last season's NCAA championship.
However, that aspect took a back seat to impressive offense before 8,280 at the KFC Yum! Center as both squads shot at least 46 percent.
Not bad considering Cardinals coach Rick Pitino must replace starting point guard Peyton Siva and center Gorgui Dieng from a 35-5 title team while introducing six freshmen and a transfer to his high-energy playing style.
Not surprisingly, senior guard and leading scorer Russ Smith set the tone for a strong returning nucleus and the newcomers with 24 points and eight assists in the first of three public scrimmages over consecutive Saturdays.
Considering the Cardinals just opened practice this week in preparation for their Nov. 9 opener against the College of Charleston, Pitino was encouraged to see good shooting as he works on the defense.
"Very impressed with the team after five practices," said the coach, who stressed a half-court strategy.
"Hopefully, our defense will get better by the next Red-White and hopefully we'll have it more in on a following Red-White (scrimmage)."
Losing Siva and Dieng to the draft hasn't changed the high expectations for an experienced Cardinals team looking to repeat as national champions.
Louisville figures to be a heavy favorite to win the new American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East), with the return of Smith (18.7 points per game last season) and starting forwards Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan, whose game highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds led the Red squad's 95-80 victory over the White.
Smith, who passed on entering the draft to go after another title, appeared to have added some muscle to his 6-foot, 165-pound body.
And despite two twisted ankles, his first step seemed even quicker, particularly especially on one first-half drive where he got through White defenders to pass to Behanan for a layup.
"I've been working extremely hard on just trying to look at the court a lot better, get to spots and make guys come to me and try to find people," said Smith, who shot 8 of 14 from the field and committed just one turnover.
"I'm on two bad wheels. I don't know what it is, but I think I'd be much better if I didn't have these. I just have to get through it and get to next week."
Sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell showed the same high intensity crucial to Louisville's inside game during its title run.
He went hard at the boards and the floor several times, causing a hushed moment when he screamed after one second-half tumble that turned out to be a left leg cramp.
Pitino quickly grabbed the microphone afterward and reassured spectators by saying, "I wasn't worried," especially since Harrell has shown that kind of fire since his arrival.
"I just keep pushing myself," said Harrell, who led the White team with 23 points and 10 rebounds. "This game is all about effort."
Both teams shot well. The Red team hit 37 of 79 (46.8 percent) while the White was 34 of 74 (45.9 percent).
Terry Rozier had a strong overall night for the Cardinals' freshman guards with 18 points and 11 rebounds while providing the playmaking skills and defense that Pitino stresses -- with more to learn in the coming days.
"I know he's a defense-minded guy, so if you upset him there, you might as well take a seat on the bench," Rozier said. "This is a work in progress and we just wanted to work on half-court defense. When the season starts, it's going to be way different."
Louisville played without Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock, who's nursing a left ankle injury.
Junior guard Kevin Ware is fully recovered from the broken right leg from last spring's Midwest Regional final victory over Duke. He is three weeks away from returning to the court, but was also absent on Saturday because of pink eye contracted during a community service appearance.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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