LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Of all the problems encountered by Louisville's then-No.1 basketball team in Tuesday's 70-57 loss to Texas Tech in Madison Square Garden, none was more glaring than the Cardinals' shortcomings at point guard.
More specifically, starter Darius Perry and backup Fresh Kimble, and that could mean more playing time for freshman David Johnson in Saturday's noon game (ACCN) against Eastern Kentucky (3-6) in the KFC Yum! Center.
Against the Red Raiders, Perry had zero assists and six turnovers in 15 minutes, while Kimble was guilty of only one turnover but also managed just two assists in 23 minutes, only two minutes off his season-high against Indiana State. They were a combined 2-of-9 shooting.
Since then, social media has crackled with criticism of the two players and pleas for coach Chris Mack to do something to alleviate the problem.
"The point guards have to play better," Mack said. "It's been a question mark from everybody outside of the program. We're not gonna be trading anybody; those guys have to play better. Several times we'd run a set play and we didn't have the ability to communicate with the other four players what we were running and that kills you. So we do need better point guard play. It's going to continue to be a big question mark, so hopefully those guys take that as a challenge."
Truth is, after they built early success and earned plaudits for their play in November, Perry and Kimble have struggled since UofL's schedule toughened. After seven games against inferior competition Perry was averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 assists, with just 13 turnovers. In the last three games -- against Michigan, Pittsburgh and Texas Tech -- the junior has just seven assists with 11 turnovers and has scored only nine points.
Kimble has had six assists and six turnovers during that time. And although the duo isn't expected to carry a heavy scoring load, they are expected to to shoot better than the 26.9 percent (7-of-26) they've managed in that trio of games.
Not coincidentally, UofL's offensive production has dropped dramatically during the three-game stretch. Through seven games the Cards were averaging 87.1 points while shooting 51.9 percent overall and .408 from 3-point range. In the last three, the ugly figures are 59.7 ppg, 38.9% (63-162) and 29.0% (18-62). Take away the 9-of-17 first-half 3-point blitz against Pitt and add the 2-of-9 in the second half against Western Kentucky and UofL is 11-of-54 (20.4%) for seven of the last eight halves.
While critical of Perry and Kimble for their play against Texas Tech, Mack doesn't lay all the blame at their feet for Louisville's recent offensive woes.
"It's something that I feel like our guys are doing a pretty good job spearheading our defense, communicating on getting back on transition," Mack said. "But where we've struggled in the last three games is with turning the ball over, and also getting us in what we need to be running. If teams are going to try and extend their defense, you can't play 35- or 40-feet from the basket.
"And it's not just on the point guard. Your receivers have to be open in what we call the attack area so we can feed the post, so that we can drive the ball with meaning and create shots for one another. When the screening action is occurring you're not 25 feet away with the basketball not being able to deliver it. So it's more than just our point guards, but they quarterback our team and I expect more of them."
Mack's options for a solution are limited, which brings us to Johnson, the highly regarded 6-foot-5 guard from Trinity High School whose progress was slowed by offseason shoulder surgery. After sitting out the first four contests, he has averaged a mere five minutes per game. He played seven minutes against Texas Tech, scoring four points with no assists or turnovers. Mack indicated that he will see more action against EKU.
"David needs to play a little bit more," Mack said. "It's hard to get confidence when you play four or five minutes. We tried to get him out on the floor a little bit more against Texas Tech and we'll do the same against Eastern Kentucky. David brings some things to the table, especially with his size and his ability to pass and playmake that we don't necessarily have in other positions or in that position."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.