Rick Pitino demands 110% on the defensive end of the floor at all times, no matter if it’s half-court, three-quarters court, or full-court. The Louisville Cardinals have gotten off to a predictable 3-0 start with wins over Manhattan, Samford, and Miami-Ohio, but take a look beyond the names of the teams. Don’t say, “They should be 3-0 and playing at a high level because of competition.” This team is playing at a high level because of ultra focus and is defending with a February/March fervor in mid-November. Louisville’s three opponents combined are shooting only 34.8% from the floor and the level of defensive intensity is why many are picking the Cardinals to cut down the nets in Atlanta in March.
“This nonsense of where you stand in November on Thanksgiving – it’s where you stand in February and March obviously, but, with our schedule we got to be ready, we could lose all three, win all three because every team’s a great team,” said Pitino, alluding to the upcoming schedule after Sunday’s 80-39 win over the Redhawks.
Russ Smith is a 3-point marksmen, but also a defensive stopper in the Louisville backcourt. Credit: University of Louisville Sports Information
The way the Hall of Famer-to-be motivates possibly had his players so stoked that they have defended early like they are playing Syracuse, Cincinanti, and UConn. The Cardinals know the layout of the pressure well behind the leadership of senior Peyton Siva on the point. This Cardinals’ defense is attacking like the video game ‘Angry Birds’ as the first three opponents will attest in turning the ball over a combined 67 times.”We played tremendous defense,” Pitino explained after holding Miami-Ohio to 29.4% and forcing them into 19 turnovers, “Everybody really played very well on the defensive end, rebounded well, very active and we needed to have a great game going into the strongest field I’ve ever seen since I’ve been a coach.”
That field is the Battle 4 Atlantis which kicks off Thanksgiving Day in the Bahamas. The Cardinals join Minnesota, Missouri, Memphis, Duke, VCU, Stanford and Northern Iowa, Louisville’s first round opponent. The Cardinals will look to up that defensive intensity even more with this Elite Eight-esque combination of basketball teams.
“I’ve been to Maui many times – like Maui some years, you have a Chaminade weak and one other team weak and six strong teams,” noted Pitino, “But this is the eight-strongest teams I’ve seen in one place since I’ve been a head coach. I couldn’t tell you who the best team is.”
If the Cardinals turn up the defensive gas and shoot the ball in Nassau, like they did Sunday, then it may not may matter. Siva added four steals on Sunday in addition to his 10 assists. Russ Smith has been magnificent in the early going on both ends as he topped out at 23, nailing five-of-seven triples as Louisville once again illustrated Pitino’s trademark of turning defense into offense.
“We thought this team would give us problems, but we shot so well and, when you shoot so well, you get your press on that many more times,” said Pitino.
The perfection of artist Pitino’s defensive Picasso was illustrated in the second half with Montrezel Harrell’s steal and subsequent slam dunk which ignited the Yum! Center and catapulted the Cardinals into the stretch of games this week that will allow them to raise eyebrows against the high caliber competition.
“I just baited the steal,” analyzed Harrell of the play, “I saw them sitting back and I saw him throw it, and went and got the steal. That’s just how I play, I go out there and play hard and try to help the team whenever I can.”
- Ken Cross
Related Posts:Cardinals went down swingingHancock, Harrell solidify Pitino’s depthGet that stuff outta here: Shot-blockers of the Big EastHigh Five: Games to watch as Big East kicks offCalipari most underrated defensive coach in the nation, says peer