Future now for Pitino's Cards?

This was supposed to be a 'bridge' season. But after a convincing win over No. 20 UNLV, Louisville (8-0) finds itself off to the best start in Rick Pitino's tenure and rising in the national polls. No. 20 UofL doen't plan to let down Tuesday night against Drexel.

Pundits thought Rick Pitino was in for a rebuilding year with five new starters in his lineup this season. But after Louisville's convincing 77-69 win over No. 20 UNLV Saturday to improve to 8-0, Pitino has them re-thinking.

This was supposed to be a 'bridge' season until Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan and the rest of Louisville's Top 5-ranked recruiting class arrived on campus next fall.

But the future might be now for Pitino's unheralded group.

"This is a bridge team, we're building something for the future, but the future could be this year," Pitino said.

Louisville doesn't have an individual star. There are no Francisco Garcia's or Terrence Williams' on this team. And that's what Pitino has, a true team. One that is balanced, unselfish; and deep.

That's how Louisville has jumped out to the best start in Pitino's 10-year tenure, with depth and balance unmatched by most teams, including the previously unbeaten, 20th-ranked Runnin Rebels.

None of Pitino's players average more than 26 minutes per game, and the leading scorer averages just 12.4 points. But Louisville's recently nominated Hall of Fame coach has a deep bench with six players averaging more than 8 points per game.

Peyton Siva is becoming a driving force for rising Louisville.
One night it's Preston Knowles or Peyton Siva leading the way offensively, the next it might be Chris Smith or Kyle Kuric combining for 34 points off the bench like they did against UNLV. Four of UofL's five starters average double figures, while the bench contributes 32.5 points per game.

Remember those preseason intrasquad scrimmages that Pitino said the reserves were beating his starters? That was an early sign of Louisville's strength.

"This type of team does not have the individual talent that is going to be great every night," Pitino said. "On any given night somebody is going to rise who gets the shots. I can't tell you who the best player on this team is or who is going to be the high scorer. I can tell you we have a lot of good players who are mentally tuned into the game."

That probably wasn't the case last season as Louisville finished an uninspiring 20-13 season with a first round NCAA loss to California.

"(Vegas) was a game where you had to do so many things right mentally to win," Pitino said. "I didn't know if we had the experience to win this game, but we did some great things in the second half. Obviously Preston and Kyle made some big buckets."

UNLV also helped Pitino learn a lot more about his team than he did in blowout wins against Florida International or Chattanooga.

"That game told us what we need to work on, what we need to get better at," Pitino said. "It pointed out our strengths and weaknesses. And it was a great indicator for me going into the Christmas break what we need to work on."

What will the Cardinals be working on during the break?

"I'd rather keep that private, but it did tell me exactly where our weaknesses lie and where we have to make significant improvement," Pitino said.

Louisville allowed UNLV to shoot 50 percent in the first half, including 58 percent from the three-point line. But Pitino made a halftime adjustment that stymied the Rebels offense in the second half and limited them to just 1-of-5 three-pointers in the second half as the Cardinals pulled away for victory. The Cardinals turned up the heat defensively after the break, forced 18 turnovers and came up with 8 steals.

"They played a lot of man box in the second half," said UNLV's Lon Kruger. "They got us standing around a little bit in the second half. We got timid in the second half - that's not what you want to do. That's what they're hoping you do. They won that little battle there."

Now, Pitino's Cardinals are on the rise, up to No. 20 in the AP poll this week.

"This team is grounded.....they care about winning," Pitino said. "They understand that they can't just go out there and win on their physical ability, and that the mental part is just as important."

Louisville's next big test? Winning on the road. Pitino's squad has played their first eight games at the KFC Yum! Center, host Drexel Tuesday night and Gardner-Webb Saturday at the home before traveling to Western Kentucky next week for their first road game.

The Dragons, 6-1 this season, have won four straight games heading into tonight's 9:00 game. They're coached by former UMass coach Bruiser Flint, who has his team playing tough on the boards and on defense. Drexel is second in the nation in rebound margin and three-point field goal defense.

"We're cramming for an exam, but the good thing is they're probably cramming for us," said Pitino, noting that his team hasn't had much time to prepare for Drexel since Saturday's game against UNLV. "They're a good, solid basketball team."

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