LOUISVILLE — Over the years Louisville’s basketball team has been known for dunking, pressing, running.
Add ball handling to its list of skills.
The third-ranked Cardinals cruised past Hartford Tuesday at the KFC Yum! Center, winning 87-48 in a Hall of Fame Tipoff game.
Now 4-0, U of L had just seven turnovers Tuesday. The most the Cardinals have had in one game this season is 10, in their 99-54 win over Cornell Friday, and they turned the ball over a measly three times in their season opener against the College of Charleston.
The competition may not be the highest caliber, but with Louisville’s style of play the turnover number is still impressive.
The Cardinals have been able to do this in four wins that have all been blowouts, the type of games where play can get sloppy.
That hasn’t happened yet. This season U of L has 65 assists and 25 turnovers, despite the graduation of Peyton Siva, last year’s point guard.
Much of the credit for the Cardinals’ success goes to 5-10 junior guard Chris Jones, a junior college transfer who’s taken over the point guard duties.
He’s turned the ball over twice this season while handing out 17 assists.
“I see myself as a ballhandler,” Jones said, “but in junior college and high school I had to do everything.”
Jones is doing a little bit of everything for the Cardinals, too, averaging 13 points and 2.7 steals per game, but it’s his ballhandling and defense that is drawing the most attention.
“He had 13 deflections out of the 52 we had, which is very good,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “When you play against a team that executes as well as Hartford, you’ve got to get a lot of deflections, and we did tonight.
“I think Chris Jones is a tremendous point guard. He’s very low to the ground, he doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. One of the points of emphasis this year is we weren’t going to turn the ball over because we’re a possession team. If you’re going to press, be all over the floor trapping, using that much energy, if you just give it away all that energy was for naught.”
On Tuesday Jones was one of four Cardinals in double figures with 11 points. Montrezl Harrell led Louisville with 20 points and nine rebounds, Russ Smith had 14 points, and Chane Behanan came off the bench to chip in 11 points.
Louisville shot 50 percent from the field while Hartford (2-3) shot 42 percent. Mark Nwakamma led the Hawks with 16 points, and Yasin Kolo was the only other Hartford player in double figures with 12 points.
About the only thing that upset Pitino Tuesday were questions about junior guard Kevin Ware, who missed a court date this week after receiving a ticket for speeding in Barren County Oct. 26. Questions arose about the car he was driving at the time, but Louisville said before the game that there was no compliance issue involved.
Pitino was asked Tuesday if he considered not playing Ware, who scored four points and had two steals in 13 minutes of playing time.
“I’m not going to play a player because of a speeding ticket?” Pitino said. “He mixed up the day (for the court appearance). It wasn’t that he was ignoring it, he said he thought it was the following week. I’ve benched a lot of players in my time, not for a speeding ticket. He shouldn’t have been speeding. I told him he took a friend’s generosity in loaning his car, and he wasn’t a very good friend.”
That was the only downside for the Cardinals, who announced Tuesday the signing of Matz Stockman, a 7-2, 238-pound forward/center from Oslo, Norway. Stockman is currently enrolled at the Canarias Basketball Academy in Gran Canaraia in Spain’s Canary Islands.
The Cardinals continue play in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Saturday and Sunday in Uncasville, Conn. U of L plays Fairfield Saturday, and depending on the outcome of the game will face North Carolina or Richmond Sunday.
“We’re getting better,” Pitino said, “doing a lot of good things from an unselfish standpoint.”