On Saturday, the Pitt Panthers and Louisville Cardinals faced off in the magnificent KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville. Pitt came into the game looking to correct a two game losing skid and complete the season sweep over Louisville, while the Cardinals looked to avenge their loss to Pitt and move into first place in conference play.
Pitt played very well and took the lead in the first half despite being out-rebounded and out-shot from behind the arc. Thanks to a solid shooting performance from Jared Wilson-Frame and solid frontcourt contributions from Kene Chukwuka, Pitt went into the half up four. Although it was impressive on Pitt’s end, they did get unlucky as two three point attempts went halfway in the basket before rolling out, shots that would have gained Pitt more traction for the second half.
Although Pitt came out on top in first half, the lack of penetration was troublesome. The Cardinals played spectacular perimeter defense, not allowing Xavier Johnson or Trey McGowens to get to the basket. Pitt was able to still put up points, but this all changed in the second half. For over six minutes, Pitt didn’t score as Louisville went on a 8-0 run and never looked back. They did this by playing aggressive on pick and roll’s which caused the Panthers to either pass to Chukwuka, who missed two easy layups, or take contested shots from the outside.
Johnson and McGowens finished the game with only 16 combined points and three free throws. From what we’ve seen this season from Pitt, if these two can’t score and get to the basket then Pitt has little chance to win. This was always going to be a very difficult win for the Panthers, but it’s disappointing to see the offense completely stutter in the second half when they had the lead.
Two things Pitt needs to work on are rebounding and turnovers. In the first half Pitt was dominated on the boards, one of the only reasons Louisville wasn’t behind by double digits at the break. Turnovers also killed the Panthers yesterday, as per usual, as they racked up 17. Louisville racked up 30 second chance points and points off turnovers compared to Pitt’s 17. These flaws will continue to haunt Pitt throughout the season as they start two freshman guards and have little talent in the front court, but they can be improved on.
Things get easier for Pitt down the line, as the Panthers have played six out of seven ACC games against ranked opponents and now have some weaker teams on the schedule. The next game is at Clemson on Tuesday, where Pitt will look to end their three game slide and work their way into post season consideration.