Pitino then said teams like second-ranked Syracuse, who the Cardinals fell to 52-51 Monday night, North Carolina, Duke, Georgetown and Baylor were just behind the top-ranked Wildcats. The UofL coach also lumped the Cardinals in with that elite second group, stating his belief that his team is "close" to beating the elite teams nationally after a near-miss against Syracuse, a popular Final Four pick.
"We are very, very close, and we're going to get in a game where the offense will not be there," Pitino said. "I told them there's a reason the Giants won the Super Bowl -- it's called defense. The next two weeks we have to become a great defensive basketball team. That means we've got to get (Wayne) Blackshear playing better defense and understanding the system. We've got to get (Chane) Behanan and Kevin Ware playing better defense. The other guys understand the schemes. We've got to get those guys to understand the schemes."
Pitino also said he had more difficulty getting past his team's narrow loss against Syracuse than he did an earlier 31-point loss to unranked Providence.
"The game the other night just killed me, it took everything out of me and for the past 48 hours has been driving me crazy," Pitino said. "Here's my attitude. I'm not happy about anything with losing. The players see that and they realize there are no moral victories. With that attitude you'll go up to Syracuse and you'll get blown out. There are no moral victories. They executed and we didn't at the end."
"We shut down their offense completely and were playing well with Peyton Siva in the beginning of the game because he was able to get into the seams and make good plays," Pitino said.
Then Siva was called for an ill-advised third foul late in the first half that forced him to the bench for the rest of the half and the start of the second.
"He just chopped the guy and that drove me up the wall because he's a junior point guard and he can't make that mistake," Pitino said. "I can't live with that mental mistake with two fouls."
Even with Siva on the bench because of foul problems, Louisville still should have beaten Syracuse if they would have made free throws. The Cardinals made just 12 of 21 free throws against the Orange.
"What we wanted to do against Kentucky and Syracuse is take their transition out of the game, make it a halfcourt game, try to get them in foul trouble and be the better half court team because that was the only chance we had beating a Syracuse or Kentucky," Pitino said. "And we did it. Unfortunately the possessions where we got fouled we didn't make free throws. When you're in a 50 point game (free throws) are monumental."
With five games remaining in the regular season, Louisville finds itself in sixth place in the Big East with an 8-5 league record. The Cardinals travel to DePaul for a noon game this Saturday before heading to Cincinnati next week for a tough road contest against the Bearcats.
"I think our guys are really disappointed," said Pitino. "I told them the only thing that will erase that is beating DePaul. We have to get this game. They play very well at home and press the whole game. If we win this game we're 21-6 and in good shape to make our run at the end of the year."
Here are more comments from Louisville head coach Rick Pitino:
Pitino on using Kyle Kuric and Wayne Blackshear together
"The reason (Kuric) was so good last year is we played him at the four spot and he could out maneuver any power forward and get his shots off…Now when you play him strictly at the three some of his liabilities show - he's not good off the bounce and doesn't drive real well. He's got to get in the lane and get fouled.
"What I want to do in crucial situations with the game on the line is play Blackshear at the three and Kuric at the four and create a lot of motion. Kyle will be lethal and I think Wayne will be very good. Chane is a great offensive rebounder, but he's not a great free throw shooter. We will lose some rebounding but that lineup could be pretty potent. You don't want a steady diet of that because Chane is a very good rebounder and kept us in the game against Syracuse with his offensive rebounding."
Pitino on possible adjustments against Syracuse's zone
"If anything I would have put Kyle there," Pitino said. "Gorgui can usually make that shot and is a very good passer. We didn't want to go to Gorgui in there. We wanted to dribble penetrate. That's the way we've hurt them in the past. As soon as you put a shooter in there (middle of the zone) their center jams the shooter. With Gorgui they didn't jam him. They left him open and said make the shot. He lost confidence because he missed a few. What bothered me is that he stopped taking the shot and the pass he threw on the baseline to the guy cutting away from the basket."
Pitino on free throw shooting
"If you can shoot from the outside you can probably be a great free throw shooter. We spend an inordinate amount of time on it. When you're in a tight game sometimes it's not the free throw it's the pressure of the moment that gets you."
Pitino on Kevin Ware, who was absent from the bench against Syracuse
"He had the flu bug the other day. He's back in practice. The Syracuse game would not have been a game for Kevin Ware because of the zone. DePaul will be more of a game for him."
Pitino on Stephen Van Treese
"I don't think we'll get him (back) this year. I think he'll play his senior year and that's it."
Pitino on recruiting trips in Chicago and Washington D.C.
"We're going to stay and see a high school game and the next day I've got a high school game in D.C. I've probably done more recruiting this year than anytime before. I made such a big deal of recruiting shooters. I'm convinced of that now. That's why Duke is always a dangerous team because they can shoot it. We have a young man that I really like, can't mention him, but really like him because he is a flat out, knock down shooter."