Where’s the D?

Louisville's defense struggles once again in loss to Memphis

By Linda Younkin Published:

LOUISVILLE — I’m going to keep this short and sweet, much like Rick Pitino’s postgame press conference.
OK, short is the more accurate description.

Pitino didn’t have a lot to say after his Louisville basketball team fell to Memphis, 73-67, at the KFC Yum! Center Thursday.

What he said is what fans have seen in U of L’s big games.

The Cardinals are struggling defensively.

That showed in Memphis’ 56.5 percent shooting in the second half.

When U of L (13-3) finally put a little distance between itself and the Tigers, taking a six-point lead with 5:26 left in the game, Memphis promptly went on a 15-6 run, good for a 70-67 lead with 39 seconds left in the game.

Two missed 3-pointers, a defensive foul and a turnover, and any chance for a Louisville comeback was over.

“Give them credit,” Pitino said. “They made some shots. We got confused a couple of times when the game was on the line what defense we were in. We didn’t get confused one time last year. I don’t know what’s so difficult about it. I probably can’t play as many defenses.”

Defense was a staple in last year’s march to the national championship. In the Cardinals’ three losses this season, defense has been a major problem.

North Carolina used the runout several times in turning back Louisville 93-84. Kentucky played its best game of the year in beating the Cardinals 73-66, when Julius Randle went wild inside in the first half.

Interior play was a problem again for Louisville Thursday.

The Cardinals’ starting frontline combined for 17 points and 16 rebounds. Unfortunately for U of L, one player — Montrezl Harrell — had 14 points and 11 reounds.

Louisville’s interior play didn’t cause the Tigers much defensive trouble. Harrell didn’t attempt a free throw in the game, and neither did Wayne Blackshear, the team’s other starting forward. Center Mangok Mathiang, who played a total of 10 minutes, went 1 for 2 from the line. He was one of just three Cardinals who shot free throws.

The Tigers weren’t sparkling from the line, going 13 for 21, but they hit them when they counted, going 8 for 9 in the final five minutes.

For Memphis coach Josh Pastner, Thursday’s win was easy to explain.

“Our players made plays,” he said. “We made shots when we needed shots, and we had four straight stops at the end of the game. That was important, and our guys made plays.”

The Tigers shot 51 percent for the game, with all five starters finishing in double figures. Shaq Goodwin and Joe Jackson led Memphis (11-3) with 15 points each. Guard Geron Johnson had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Luke Hancock came off the bench to score a game-high 20 points for Louisville, 14 coming in the first half. Russ Smith, who scored just three points in the first half, finished the game with 19. The Cardinals shot 39 percent.

Both teams are now 2-1 in the American Athletic Conference. Louisville continues conference play with a home game Sunday against SMU.

“We’ve got a tough game coming up, one of the best statisical teams in the nation,” Pitino said, “and we’ve got to get Memphis down there when we play them. We can’t hang our heads right now because this is a tougher league than people anticipated.”

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