After starting 12-0 and rising to No. 4 in the national polls, Louisville has dropped five of their past eight games, falling all the way to No. 25 in the latest ESPN/USA Today poll. After a 73-62 win at Pittsburgh Saturday to improve their Big East record to 3-4, Louisville now has a chance to turn things around with three of their next four games at home.
"I don't think we were ever in a funk," Pitino said. "I think we were an injured basketball team who had a bad game against Providence. Prior to that we played well against Georgetown, well against Notre Dame - we were up four late and we didn't put them away and that was disappointing. But I don't think there was ever a point this season where we were ever in a funk."
Heading into Pittsburgh, Louisville had dropped five of seven and desperately needed a win. The Cardinals responded with one of their best performances, shooting 55 percent from floor, winning the battle on the boards, and capitalizing at the free throw line."I think we played very well against Pittsburgh, especially in the second half," Pitino said. "We're a team that has to execute and the more we practice the better we will be at executing. The last week has been the most consistent time we practiced. So that is a good sign. We've had a healthy team. We had Elisha Justice practice, Kyle Kuric, Peyton Siva practice. So we've had a healthy team relatively speaking."
Though Villanova's 10-10, 3-5 record doesn't indicate, the Wildcats have played good basketball lately. Villanova has won their last two games, including an overtime win at St. John's.
"Villanova is very similar to us in a lot of respects," Pitino said. "They've got a very fast backcourt. They have a young man on fire right now averaging 30 points the last five games. They have someone like Chane Behanan, (Jayvaughn) Pinkston, and they have a center like Gorgui (Dieng). So we're very similar."
If Louisville hopes to stay on track, the Cardinals will have to slow down Maalik Wayns, the Wildcats' high scoring point guard. The 6'2 Wayns scored 28 points against St. John's and is averaging 18.7 points. He has scored 20 or more points 10 times this season.
"They're playing good basketball right now," Pitino said. "They're an explosive offensive team and we've got to contain them off the bounce. (Wayns) is very quick, very fast. He's very explosive, great in the open court. He's a big time pick and roll guy."
Wayns is difficult to contain off the bounce, something Louisville has struggled with this season, though the Cards have improved their on ball defense since the start of the season.
"It's gotten a lot better along with the fact we're not putting teams to the foul line, which has improved our defense," Pitino said.
Pitino hopes his team can build on their strong offensive performance against Pittsburgh. Chane Behanan's dominance in the paint, combined with a dose of Pitino's small lineup were key reasons for Louisville's improved offensive efficiency against the Panthers. Behanan scored 19 points, hitting 6-9 field goals and 7-9 free throws.
"Offensively he's improved a great deal," said Pitino. "Now we've got to get him to improve defensively. He's got to get to the level of the other four players defensively. He doesn't block out on the free throw line and gave up three offensive rebounds (vs. Pittsburgh). The biggest weakness is his ball containment. He's working on that. He needs to know the scouting report and when to get out on shooters. He has a great deal of pride in his game and he's working on it."
Pitino also experimented with a smaller lineup against Pittsburgh featuring Siva and Russ Smith in the backcourt with Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith at forward. Pitino used a similar approach last season with great success and Kuric responded with 21 points in the win.
"It helped us a lot last year, but I don't want to abandon Chane Behanan because I think he's the future of our program," Pitino said. "But we were plus 15 with the smaller lineup. Probably toward the end of games its something we would go to or certain times when our offense isn't gelling. It's an option for us because they play so well together."