Louisville's veterans are stressing offensive balance in quest to return to Final Four

Louisville's team concept is such that the term "go-to guy" applies to just about anybody on the roster.

At least, that's the philosophy of Cardinals guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and center Gorgui Dieng, who are expected to lead a return to the Final Four along with forward Chane Behanan. It's reflected in last season's scoring, where Smith averaged 11.5 points per game while Siva, Dieng and Behanan all averaged 9.

Though they believe more experience will boost their offense, they won't do so at the expense of balance and chemistry.

And with a roster that goes about 10 deep, the Cardinals believe anybody is capable of having a big game. This group is eager to set the example, but the goal is making sure everyone shines.

"I think that's what makes this team so deadly, that we can score from all five positions," Siva said during Sunday's media day. "We have Chane and Gorgui down in the post, we have Luke (Hancock) and Wayne (Blackshear) on the wing, and Kevin (Ware) and Russ (Smith) also on the wing.

"We have that well-balanced attack that anybody can go off on any given night and that's the way our team has always functioned."

But it's clear the aforementioned group is trying to advance their games.

Gorgui, who averaged 9.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks as a sophomore, spent the offseason bulking up his 6-foot-11 frame to prepare for the expected inside pounding in the Big East Conference. Though listed at 245 pounds in the media guide, the lanky native of Senegal hinted he was bigger without saying how much.

Dieng said he's ready to score more if needed, but stressed that his priority is developing defensive skills.

"If I need to, I will do it but it's not my first goal," the junior said. "I'm the guy that wants to do everything I can to help this team win and wants to do everything to make this team look good. But if I need to score to help this team, I'm going to do it.

"Everybody loves to score, and if Coach (Rick Pitino) puts you in a situation where you're going to score, you can score."

Smith, better known as a defensive expert after setting a school record with 87 steals last season, showed his offensive potential during Sunday's second Red-White scrimmage.

The junior's 20 points led the White team in an 85-74 loss to the Red squad, frequently leading its transition game and going strong to the basket. His 6-of-16 shooting showed where improvement was needed, but five of his seven teammates scored in double figures.

And that's the way it could be during the regular season.

"Being in practice, and messing up every day in practice, that's the only way I'm going to get better," Smith said. "So, when I get to the games, I won't make those mistakes.

"We have so many (players), nobody knows (who can step up). It could be Kevin, it could be Wayne, Chane, Gorgui, it could be me. You just don't know with this team. We're really deep."

Siva agreed with Smith, but emphasized that he's trying to do his part by playing more under control offensively and trying to cut down on turnovers. Louisville's first scrimmage last week showed that it's a work in progress as Smith had six assists with five turnovers, but his 12 points keyed a balanced attack where five players scored 11 or more.

"Coach has allowed me to create more and look for my shot more, so it's definitely given me a lot more confidence," said Siva, who played just 7 minutes Sunday after turning his ankle following a collision with Smith. He is expected to only miss Monday's practice.

Pitino was pleased with his progress.

"If you ask me who has stuck out in practice," Pitino said, "it's been Peyton and Luke, Kevin, those three have stuck out as being consistent players at both ends of the floor."

The player drawing the most attention is Behanan, who started 37 games as a freshman and was named the West Regional's Most Outstanding Player last spring.

Besides averaging 9.5 points and 7.5 points, the 6-6 Behanan brings size, versatility and an outside shot. Pitino would like to see him cut down on turnovers as well but said he's progressing.

Benahan had 13 points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes on Sunday, displaying energy on both ends. Siva cited his intensity of the strides many of the veterans have made to help bring balance to the Cardinals.

"He's a workhorse, he's got a high motor, a high-intensity guy (who is) really focusing on (improving) his weaknesses," Siva said. "He can get rebounds and is so strong and really showed it in the last scrimmage when he had (22) rebounds. You just expect a lot of rebounds from him and him always playing hard.

"It's going to be tough for teams to scout us."