Vaught's Views: Lack of depth Pitino's fault

December 20, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Leftover thoughts from another memorable Kentucky-Louisville basketball game that started one way and ended an entirely different way.

* Considering this is Rick Pitino's fourth year at Louisville, isn't it amazing that the Cardinals are so short-handed?

No doubt Louisville was hurt when freshman Juan Palacios was injured early in the second half and had to leave the game. The Cardinals already were without highly regarded freshman Brian Johnson, who is out for the season.

But Louisville, like every team, has 13 scholarships. Where is the depth? Remember Kentucky also has a key player injured, sophomore Sheray Thomas. Yet Kentucky coach Tubby Smith had a lot of other options while Pitino went with just six players the second half and later correctly admitted two things - his team fatigued and it was his fault for not substituting more.

Kentucky starters played 143 minutes, Louisville starters played 162. That doesn't seem like much, but Kentucky's bench minutes were distributed among eight players. Louisville's 38 bench minutes came from two players and they both had to play over 10 minutes the second half.


Pitino may have a lot of help on the way, but it's clear that he's still nowhere near the talent level he wants after four years and that Smith had a huge edge in overall depth this year.

* Kentucky's freshmen Rajon Rondo and Joe Crawford showed signs Saturday that they could be prime-time players by March Madness.

No, the freshmen didn't have a huge impact on Saturday's 60-58 win by the Wildcats. But it was the fearlessness they showed that impressed me.

Rondo played 27 minutes and had four points, three assists, five rebounds and one steal. Crawford played 12 minutes and had five points and one rebound.

They were only a combined 4-for-13 from the field, but twice late in the game Rondo drove inside. Once he scored, one he didn't. But with the game on the line, he was not afraid to try and make a play. He also showed he could finish a fast break the right way midway of the second half when he pulled up for a 10-foot open jumper rather than risk having his shot blocked inside.

Crawford made only one of four 3-pointers, but he was poised and not afraid to take the shots when he had them.

Both also did adequate defensive jobs most of the game and were not intimidated by Louisville's physical play.

* No matter how good a player is, big-game pressure and being the target of a good defense can play havoc with his game.

Both teams have two veteran marquee players - Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike for Kentucky and Taquan Dean and Francisco Garcia for Louisville.

While all had their moments, they all had horrible games on offense.

Hayes and Azubuike combined to go 5-for-22 from the field and got their combined 18 points thanks to 6-for-6 shooting at the foul line. Dean and Garcia scored 17 points, but they were a combined 6-for-22 from the field. That's 11-for-44 from the field - a 25 percent mark - for the game's four big-name players.

What their teammates should have seen, though, is that a poor game offensively doesn't mean a player still can't be a big factor in the game. Hayes had nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and one blocked shot in 36 minutes. Garcia had six rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Dean had seven rebounds, two assists and one steal.

Azubuike had the worst overall game line with just one rebound and one blocked shot. But he also kept his poise on the game's decisive play and rather than force a bad shot, he got the ball back to Patrick Sparks to set up his game-winning free throws.

"Good players care only about one thing and that's winning," Hayes said.

* This win could be huge for Kentucky when NCAA Tournament seedings are made.

The Cats are 7-1 and have two sure wins coming up against William & Mary and Campbell. By the time UK starts Southeastern Conference play, the Cats will be no worse than seventh in the polls. The Cats then will have three more home games - South Carolina, Kansas and Vanderbilt. If UK can win those three, the Cats will be in the top five by mid-January and positioned to again be a one or two seed if they do as well in SEC play as expected.

But if the Cats had lost to Louisville, they would probably have dropped to at least 12th in the polls and faced a much more difficult climb to a high seed for March Madness.

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