Phoenix, AZ – Rick Pitino said he didn’t know much about Grand Canyon University (3-4) except that he was doing Dan Majerle a favor by agreeing to the game in Phoenix. After Louisville narrowly escaped with a 79-70 victory in front of the largest crowd in school history (7,493), he certainly knows a lot more about the up and coming Antelopes.
This was the first time ever that GCU hosted an ranked opponent and they gave the raucous crowd a lot to cheer about by hanging tough with the three time NCAA Championship Cardinals. No. 14 Louisville (7-1) handed GCU a 111-63 beat down last December but this time around it was much more competitive. Pitino had nothing but praise for GCU afterwards in his press conference saying “You (GCU) have something special here.” He was referring to the crowd in which he went on to say was the toughest crowd he had ever faced in his 40 plus years of coaching. “Whether we go to Duke or Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that environment tonight” said Pitino who is now just two wins shy of 400 as the Louisville Head Coach.
The star of the night was local product, senior PG DeWayne Russell (5-11). The 2012 Arizona High School Player of the Year electrified the home crowd to the tune of a WAC record tying 42 points on 14-of-27 shooting. He came into the game averaging 24.3 points and 5.8 assists and was clearly the focal point of the offense from the get go. Of Russell’s performance, Pitino said “that was about the best guard performance against one of my teams that I’ve seen in my 40 years of coaching”.
Russell used his elite quickness, ability to get off a variety of shots and his intelligence to net those 42 points. He was extremely effective using his midrange pull-up jumper no matter if he was going left or right. As a counter to that, he would get into the lane and use a very nice running floater rather than challenge the big front line of Louisville. The Cardinals also had to respect his 3 point range as he came in shooting 50 percent and was 3-of-6 on this night. He was able to neutralize the bigger defenders that Louisville threw at him by using a beautiful shot fake and getting to the line 16 times. His biggest highlight of the night was taking the ball with 4.5 seconds left in the first half, sprinting down court and pulling up from 30 feet and knocking down a buzzer beater that sent the Lopes into halftime with a 37-36 lead. Russell played the entire 40 minutes.
Aside from Russell, GCU struggled to get anything else going. The Cardinals were extremely aggressive in the passing lanes and were deflecting everything going towards the paint. Keeping Russell in isolation was the right play and Majerle kept going to it because it was working no matter who was guarding him. Freshman Oscar Frayer (6-6) only scored four points but flashed outstanding athleticism, especially on the defensive end. He had several spectacular blocks and was robbed of another as he rejected a Ray Spalding dunk but called for a foul. Darion Clark and Keonta Vernon both chipped in 8 points for the Antelopes. GCU has been without preseason WAC Player of the Year Josh Braun, who averaged 16.5 PPG and led the conference in 3 point and free throw shooting last season. Braun is recovering from off season surgery.
Louisville came out very sloppy in the first half committing a litany of errors that had to frustrate Coach Pitino. Whether it was lobs to players not looking, fouling jump shooters or missing easy shots at the rim, Louisville was digging themselves an early hole. However, one had to believe the message at halftime had to be to keep pounding the ball inside and use their distinct size advantage. The Cardinals scored 26 of their 43 second half points in the paint to pull away including several dunks and lay-ins from Ray Spalding, Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang. The Cardinals also got a huge lift from their bench outscoring GCU’s bench 38-5 and had a +11 advantage on the boards.
This article was written by Joe Trabucco, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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