Pitino aims for No. 600 vs. Tennessee-Martin

Rick Pitino takes aim at his 600th career win in Louisville's season-opener Friday night against Tennessee-Martin.

Rick Pitino enters the season one win away from his 600th career victory.

The Louisville coach, who has also served stints at Boston, Providence, and Kentucky, could reach that milestone Friday night when the eighth-ranked Cards host Tennessee-Martin in the season opener.

"It's like turning 50 – 40 was more important," Pitino said. "I wish it was 200 rather than 600 because that would mean I was 33 or 34. But it is great to accomplish it at the University of Louisville."

Louisville vs. UT-Martin
Date: Friday, Nov. 11
Time: 7:07 p.m. ET
Site: KFC Yum! Center/Crum Court, Louisville, Ky. (22,000)
Television: WHAS (Ch. 11 in Louisville) Drew Deener, play-by-play; Bob Valvano, analyst. (also Wazoo Sports statewide)
Radio: WKRD (790 AM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Doug Ormay, analyst. (SIRIUS Ch. 92)
Satellite Coordinates: SES 2, Transponder C 21, (C-Band; downlink frequency 4120 horizontal; data rate: 40.461 Mb; symbol: 29.27)
Officials: Jim Burr, Gene Steratore, Jeff Anderson
Next U of L Game: Nov. 13 vs. Lamar in KFC Yum! Center, Global Sports Invitational, 4:07 p.m. ET (WHAS-TV/Wazoo Sports statewide)

About UT Martin — Louisville opens its 2011-12 season as the Cardinals face the University of Tennessee at Martin on Friday in the first game of the 2011 Global Sports Invitational. UT Martin, picked to finish eight in the Ohio Valley Conference, beat Webster 90-72 in an exhibition game on Nov. 5. JC transfer Eli York produced 21 points and five steals off the bench in that game to lead five Skyhawks who scored in double figures.

The Global Sports Invitational is a five team, round-robin event that stretches for games from Nov. 11 through Nov. 25 and also includes games against Lamar, Arkansas State and Ohio.

Seven players return from UTM's 12-21 squad that tripled its win total from the previous season and won its first Ohio Valley Conference Tournament game in the program's history. Sophomore guard Terence Smith is the team's leading returning scorer, averaging 11.3 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman last year. Freshman guard Martez Harris averaged 22.7 points as a senior at Seneca High School in Louisville.

Though Pitino seems relatively unconcerned about his 600th coaching win, he is concerned about the health of his team. Peyton Siva, Mike Marra, Wayne Blackshear, Rakeem Buckles and Stephan Van Treese – all expected to be key contributors this season – sat out Louisville's final exhibition game against Bellarmine last week with various injuries.

The good news for the Cardinals – Siva and Marra will be available to play against Tennessee-Martin, while Van Treese should return to practice early next week.

"Peyton Siva is back in practice," Pitino said. "Today will be his fourth practice. He's not in great shape, but he is good enough to go. He's a big difference maker on our team for all the players (because) he makes them better.

"Mike Marra also returned. He'll take a little bit longer to get back from a conditioning standpoint. He's been out a lot longer than Peyton.

"Stephan Van Treese will probably return to practice Monday and two weeks away from playing. And Rakeem Buckles started working out in individual instruction and looks very good. He's probably about three weeks from stepping on the court and practicing. We expect Wayne to come back in six weeks."

Blackshear and Buckles, though weeks away from returning, will eventually help deepen Pitino's rotation. As could Kevin Ware, a talented guard from Georgia, who plans to enroll at Louisville at the conclusion of the semester.

"I think in a month's time we'll be a much different basketball team than we are now," Pitino said. "As guys come back practices get better."

The key for Louisville early in the season, though, is the return of Siva, who sustained a concussion in the first exhibition against Pikeville.

"He helps Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith and Gorgui all get easy baskets because of his speed. He pushes the pace, goes by people, creates," said Pitino. "Defenses have to help and rotate and he finds the open man. And he's very good defensively, creates havoc."

Most importantly, Siva provides on-court leadership for Pitino's team.

"This team has struggled with leadership and Peyton is the most vocal," Pitino said. "Kyle leads by example, but he's not a vocal leader. Peyton is a vocal leader. When Peyton is around everything just goes better."

Siva and senior Chris Smith will start at guard against Tennessee-Martin. Kuric and freshman Chane Behanan will start at forward with sophomore Gorgui Dieng at center.

"Peyton, Chris and Kyle have a lot of experience," Pitino said. "Gorgui got some experience last year and Chane Behanan is a special freshman. So we have a freshman and sophomore mixed in with two seniors and a junior. We have enough experience and some young players that are only going to get better as the season moves along."

Pitino said Louisville's preseason injury problems have slowed the development of his team because his first unit often hasn't been challenged enough in practices. Though Jared Swopshire has started to push Behanan in practice, Pitino said there's been nobody to challenge Dieng, which has slowed his progress.

"The second unit is the problem, but Mike Marra helped the second unit yesterday," said Pitino.

Though shorthanded, Pitino said his team learned ‘a lot' from their 64-56 exhibition win over the Knights last week.

"We got a lot out of the Bellarmine game," he said. "We did some really good things in that game, in the second half, especially. One thing we didn't do is take their best player (guard Jeremy Kendle) out of the game. We allowed their best player to be the best player. That was one big point we made to the team the next day."

Pitino hopes his team will apply that lesson Friday against UT-Martin and Sunday against Lamar.

"These teams are very dangerous. They have a lot of veterans," Pitino said. "Lamar has four seniors. We've got a very difficult non-conference schedule and we've got to play it one game at a time and make sure we're ready because we can get beat on any given night by anyone. We have to make sure we achieve the goals we set for each game and that will prevent that from happening."


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