Cards prepare for big upcoming test

Though Louisville (5-0) hosts South Alabama (2-4) Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center, Rick Pitino has his eye on UNLV, who will pay the Cardinals a visit next weekend.

Though Louisville hosts South Alabama Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center, Rick Pitino has his eye on UNLV, who will pay the Cardinals a visit next weekend.

Pitino said the Rebels, 7-0 and ranked in the Top 25, are the second best team he's seen so far this season. Lon Kruger's team won the 76 Classic last week in Anaheim, Calif., knocking off Tulsa, Murray State and Virginia Tech for the title.

"We're going to run into one of the two or three best teams I've seen play this year in another eight or nine days in [UNLV]," Pitino said. "We're not looking ahead or talking about them, but we're trying to get our team ready for an all-out assault from them. They are really good. They are probably the best team Lon has ever had."

Louisville is off to a 5-0 start this season, but really haven't been seriously challenged. The Cardinals beat FIU 92-55 Wednesday in a game that didn't provide much benefit to Pitino's team.

"We're trying to get ready for the amount of heat they're [UNLV] going to give you," Pitino said. "So we're working towards developing against a lot of pressure because teams like Las Vegas, Kentucky, Seton Hall are going to give lots of pressure. We're trying to work against that as much as anything to prepare for the Big East."

Pitino hopes South Alabama, 2-4 on the season, will challenge his team with pressure defense.

"South Alabama will be a good game for that [preparation] because they change their defenses up a lot and pressure a lot," Pitino said. "They trap a lot and they press a lot."

South Alabama, though, has struggled defensively this season. The Jaguars allow 76 points per game, while opponents are shooting .476 from the floor. South Alabama has been particularly weak defending the three, allowing opponents to shoot 48 percent from beyond the arch.

"When you're a trapping team and don't rotate you're going to give up some three's," Pitino said. "That's the double-edged sword sometimes."

Louisville shot 50 percent against FIU from the field, and made 10 of 26 three's. That type of shooting has helped the Cardinals to a 25 point average margin of victory this season.

"We realize that we've had some games where we've been the better basketball team, but I'm not sure we were that much better in terms of the lopsided score," Pitino said. "Our guys have been really focused, they're very grounded and they understand that they have to play as hard as they can to look good. They're getting better and that's what we strive for every day."

Pitino was pleased with the play of guard Preston Knowles against FIU. Knowles had his best game of the young season Wednesday, stuffing the stat sheet with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. He also made 4 of 8 three's, while making just one turnover in 29 minutes.

"We want him to play 32 minutes and not get exhausted," Pitino said. "What we want him to do is fill up the box score like he did in the game for the first time."

With Knowles playing better, Pitino wants to get backup point guards Elisha Justice and Russ Smith, who made his first appearance of the season against FIU, ready for Big East play. Peyton Siva has struggled with his outside shooting this season, making just 2 of 13 three-pointers. Pitino, though, said he wasn't worried about his starting point guards play.

"I'm really happy with Peyton because I see him every day in practice," Pitino said. "I'm trying to get Bullet and Russ Smith ready for the Big East. I know Peyton is ready."

Though Pitino played all three point guards against FIU, he said he probably won't use all three once Big East play begins. Justice, who averages 8 points per game, scored 12 points, while connecting on 3 of 4 three's against FIU. Justice also is third on the team in assists (12), and has committed only five turnovers this season despite averaging 18 minutes a game.

"He [Bullet] has really surprised me with his ability to play at this level right away," Pitino said. "He's no ordinary basketball player, he's the pride of the mountains."

Pitino also is pleased with the development of freshman center Gorgui Dieng, who had his best game against FIU with 15 points, 5 rebounds and 7 blocks.

"Every single day you see Gorgui do something different," Pitino said. "He has the most area for improvement because he doesn't know the terminology, he doesn't know the game yet. He's got great growth in him. He does something every single day that I get excited about."

Pitino was particularly impressed with Dieng's scoring move along the baseline against Isiah Thomas' squad.

"That move he made in the corner – it was one thing to ball fake and go by the man, but the guy was getting ready to draw the charge and he skirted the charge and made the bucket," Pitino said. "For a guy 6-10 that's pretty impressive."

Louisville will be without Kyle Kuric against South Alabama. Kuric won't play because of a concussion sustained against Florida International Wednesday night.

"He'll probably play against San Francisco," Pitino said.

Pitino also updated the status of junior forward Jared Swopshire, who has been sidelined this season with a groin injury.

"I think if we don't see him on the court by January 1, I think you can pack in the season for him," Pitino said. "Basically what they are doing is trying to strengthen all the muscles around his injury. Everybody says if you haven't seen significant recovery by the fourth month period you're in trouble and we're getting close to that."

Louisville plays South Alabama at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Cardinal Authority Top Stories