Posted April 07, 2013 on AP on Fox
Ncaa_basketball_louisville_b3ca
(Eds: With AP Photos.) By JIM LITKE AP Sports Columnist Playing hunches does not get a coach into the Hall of Fame. It certainly didn't get Rick Pitino to the threshold. Looking after every detail does. So does recruiting NBA-caliber talent, then slotting those players into a system, conditioning and teaching them and, finally, making them believe that winning is the by-product of relentless defense. That's been Pitino's M.O. everywhere he's been, first at Boston University, then at Providence, Kentucky and now Louisville, and even through the two NBA stints at New York and Boston sandwiched in between. That's why he'll walk into the hall when the vote becomes official Monday morning with 850-something wins on his resume and after a 72-68 win over Wichita State in the national semifinal - with maybe a second NCAA title to come later that night in the championship. But on Saturday, in one of the biggest games of Pitino's storied career, the 60-year-old Louisville coach cracked his own mold wide open with a scheme born partly out of necessity but mostly out of desperation. The biggest story of the week leading up to the game against Wichita State was about a kid from Louisville who wasn't even going to play. Kevin Ware, the first guard off the Cardinals' bench all season, broke his leg in a freak on-court accident last weekend, leaving a gaping hole in Pitino's planned rotation. Much of the Louisville press and its pressure defense rely on starting guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith to bring the heat, and the longer Saturday night's game stretched out and the fouls piled up, the less that pair looked up to the task. Trailing Wichita State 47-35 with 13:36 left to play, Pitino finally turned to a walk-on, Tim Henderson, and told him to start shooting. The junior hadn't played more than seven minutes during the tourney and only 63 minutes the entire season. One 3-pointer from Henderson a half-minute later, then a second 3 some 40 seconds after that and suddenly the Cardinals were back in the game. ''I told y'all about Tim before the camera was in my face,'' Ware laughed afterward. ''I kind of felt like Tim was doing enough on defense to stay in the game, just doing the little things, you know. But he's a great player, honestly. We go at it against Russ and Peyton all day in practice, so I really wasn't surprised, honestly.'' Easy for him to say. ''The players said they weren't surprised about him making those back-to-back threes,'' Pitino laughed. ''They're being very kind. I was shocked.'' Yet Pitino's hunch-playing didn't stop there. The second one, though, was more like a premonition. Luke Hancock, another junior who fell into his lap after transferring from George Mason, wasn't a big part of Louisville's plans when the season began. Pitino was so impressed with his toughness that he made Hancock a co-captain and brought him off the bench, mostly as a 3-point specialist. When his shots didn't fall early, there was plenty of grumbling about how many minutes Hancock was getting at the expense of Wayne Blackshear and others. But Pitino wouldn't be deterred. And he was rewarded not just with 3-pointers from Hancock - who finished with 20 points, 14 in the second half - but with a couple of slashing drives to the basket that forced the Shockers defense back onto their heels. ''If you said to me, `Is Like a top three player on the team?' I would say, `Without question.' Then you may say, `Why doesn't he start?''' Pitino said, without waiting for an answer. ''We don't want to get him in foul trouble.'' And once the Cardinals got their noses in front, 56-55 at the 6:30 mark on a 3-pointer from Hancock, all that preparation Pitino excels at turned out to be enough to keep Louisville there at the final buzzer. For the Louisville press to succeed it has to start on the in-bounds play, and once the Cardinals started making baskets, it took its toll. The Shockers went more than 26 minutes - from late in the first half until the 6:21 mark of the second - without turning the ball over once. But over the next minute and a half, the Cardinals forced three, two from Shockers freshman guard Fred VanVleet, and suddenly Louisville looked more like the No. 1 overall seed again coming into the tournament. ''I felt really, really good until we had that flurry of turnovers,'' Shockers coach Greg Marshall said. ''I didn't realize it was five in seven possessions, which is certainly big. ''You know, they do that to everyone,'' he added glumly. ''we were looking really good there for 32 minutes or whatever it was.'' It was almost long enough. Almost. ''We're one of the better pressing teams in the country. They had four turnovers. We were giving them everything but the kitchen sink, and they wouldn't turn it over,'' Pitino recalled. ''What happens in the press, if you play an extremely well-coached team, you may have one run per game. If you're going against guys that are freshman, not great ball-handlers,'' he added, ''then you may have three or four runs.'' What Louisville had, to be fair, were more like surges. A 3-pointer from Hancock nudged the Cardinals ahead to 65-60 with 2:06 left and they made just enough free throws to hold off Wichita State. ''You're elated when you win, so excited to be in a championship game,'' Pitino said finally. ''But there's always a part of you that looks at the other team and says, `They played their hearts out.' There's always a part of you that really wants to win, but you appreciate your opponent.'' Enough in this case to force Pitino way out of his comfort zone, anyway. --- Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Rick Pitino morphed into a vampire

Rick Pitino was looking rather, umm, pale, during the national championship game Monday, and the Internet took notice. The Louisville coach morphed into a vampire while witnessing Michigan’s explosive first half, leading to a solid meme: Rick Pitino looks like death. twitpic.com/ci1he4 — Farsi Montana (@ThatPersianGuy) April 9, 2013 RT@fakejdgreear: Rick Pitino is probably...

Rick Pitino freaks when he hears fireworks

Rick Pitino freaked out when he heard fireworks after Louisville beat Michigan 82-76 to win the national championship game. It’s that sort of reaction time that keeps a man alive at war … or in the hood. GIF via @WorldofIsaac

Rick Pitino becomes first coach to win a national title at two different schools

With a hard-fought win over Michigan, Louisville coach Rick Pitino became the first coach in college basketball history to win national championships at two different schools.
IT'S BEEN FUN

Wichita State coach salutes fans

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall took out a full-page newspaper ad thanking the fans after the team's Final Four loss to Louisville.

Defense links legendary coaches

Rick Pitino loves to tell stories, and he does it very, very well. He'll talk for 10 minutes about the intervention he had with Peyton Siva last season because the point guard was spreading himself too thin and saying yes to everybody. He'll talk on and on about the heated rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville. He'll tell the same story about his early days in coaching...

Pitino: Youth not an issue for Wolverines

There is much about Michigan’s title game match-up with Louisville that sounds familiar, especially given what the Wolverines have faced thus far in their tourney run. Once again, the turnover-averse Wolverines will be going up against a team that turns opposing players over at an alarming rate. Once again, the opposing team has the edge as far as tournament experience. Once again...

2013 Basketball Hall of Fame class announced

Today is a very special day for Rick Pitino. Not only is he coaching his Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA championship game against Michigan tonight, but this morning he was also elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Pitino is one of a class of seven inductees announced today that will feature some other very well know names. Nine-time All-Star and nine...

Worst Executive in history of the NBA headed to Hall of Fame

The man who single-handedly crippled the Celtics franchise and crawled out of town like a weasel is headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame: Rick Pitino, who will coach Louisville in the NCAA championship game Monday night, is among seven people elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Joining Pitino in the class of 2013, announced Monday, are former NBA stars Bernard...

Louisville wins national championship

Rick Pitino capped the greatest week of his life with the prize he wanted most of all. Luke Hancock produced another huge game off the bench, scoring 22 points, and Pitino became the first coach to win national titles at two schools when relentless Louisville rallied from another 12-point deficit to beat Michigan 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night. This title came...

Former Vol Legend Bernard King Elected To Naismith Hall Of Fame

YouTube Former Tennessee hoops legend Bernard King was elected to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame today, 19 years after he ended his NBA career.  Current Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was among others who were also elected to the 2013 Hall of Fame class. Bernard King attended the University of Tennessee from 1974-1977 and averaged 27.5 points-per-game while at UT...

Which Final 4 Team will win the National Championship?

On the eve of the Final 4, who’s going to win it all? That sounds like a good poll question. I’m sticking with the team I picked in just about every bracket I filled out, and that’s Louisville. I love their backcourt with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Of course Rick Pitino is the man at the helm and he’s one of the best in the business. Agree or Disagree? Go ahead and vote...
College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.