Pitino pleased with new lineup

Rick Pitino tweeked his lineup after an upset loss to Drexel Dec. 14, and No. 20 Louisville (10-1) has responded with a 29-point win over Gardner-Webb and a 114-82 victory on the road against Western Kentucky. The Cardinals look to continue improving Monday night against Morgan State.

Rick Pitino tweeked his lineup after an upset loss to Drexel Dec. 14, and No. 20 Louisville has responded with a 29-point win over Gardner-Webb and a 114-82 victory on the road against Western Kentucky.

In their last outing against the Hilltoppers, Louisville didn't do much wrong offensively. The Cardinals shot an amazing 65 percent from the field, made 16 three-pointers and handed out 25 assists. UofL's 114 points was the second most points the Cardinals have ever scored on the road.

"Any time you pass the ball well you shoot the ball well," Pitino said. "There were only two challenged shots all night. When shots go down like that everything looks better."

Louisville has 47 assists in their past two games. Pitino said his new lineup, which consists of Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith at forward and Gorgui Dieng at center, has a lot to do with his team's improved passing.

"I think it looks good," Pitino said of UofL's new lineup. "They run well, pass well. We haven't been hurt on the backboard. We're not becoming less of a rebounding team but we gain things offensively by playing those guys. We're trying to be a very good passing and running team and we weren't getting enough passing and running out of our power forwards."

Sent to the bench after the loss to Drexel, Rakeem Buckles, who has started eight games this season, took Pitino's message of passing and running to heart. Buckles responded with one of his better games against Western Kentucky, finishing with 15 points, six rebounds, and four assists.

"I think we're improving in all phases of the game," Pitino said. "Our lineup is not overpowering. The whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts and that's what we're all about. We did a tremendous job at Western taking a hostile environment and turned it into a very average environment by passing the basketball well."

With no restrictions on practice time, Pitino is using the holiday break to prepare his team for the rigors of Big East play. With only two non-conference games remaining before the Big East opener against Seton Hall Jan. 5, Pitino's focus of improvement is his team's defense.

While Pitino wants his team to fine tune its defense, Louisville ranks among the nation's best in several key defensive categories. The Cardinals are sixth nationally in steals and field goal percentage defense, 10th in blocked shots and 20th in scoring defense.

"I think we want to get better defensively, both in transition and halfcourt," Pitino said. "If you had to look at a weakness of our basketball team it's our defense. It's not where it needs to be, but 90 percent of coaches would say that. It has to improve in hurry because conference play is upon us and it's going to get much tougher on us."

With Friday's game against rival Kentucky looming, Pitino is also concerned about a few injuries. Junior forward Jared Swopshire remains doubtful to play this season, and key reserves Elisha Justice and Mike Marra aren't expected to play against Morgan State.

Pitino said that third-string guard Russ Smith, who stepped in for Justice against Western Kentucky, isn't ready for "prime time" in a close game. Smith scored nine points against WKU, but committed four turnovers in 11 minutes of playing time with only two assists.

"I'm much more comfortable with Elisha because he's practiced since Oct. 15, and Russ has only practiced 10 or 11 times," Pitino said.

Morgan State enters tonight's 8 p.m. game coming off a resounding loss at Syracuse. The Bears have won two of their last three games and rank 21st nationally in three point field goal percentage defense.

"They've got really good talent and have some players that can put it on the floor and really score," Pitino said. "They're tough to guard at times."


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