The Cardinals, losers of four of their last six games, are fading down the stretch. Since winning six straight in the Big East, Louisville finds itself in a late season funk heading into the post-season. The problems? Turnovers have been problematic. So has free throw shooting. The Cards have struggled on the boards occasionally. Depth, or lack thereof, is a constant issue. But the biggest problem for this bunch is an inability to score.
Since scoring 77 points in a three point win at West Virginia Feb. 11, Louisville has failed to score more than 57 points in five of their last six games. The Cardinals lost four of those six games. Against Syracuse, Louisville made just 2 of 23 three-point attempts, sealing their fate against the Orange, who made eight three's on the day. The Cardinals have shot 38 percent or worse from the field in five of the last six contests -- not exactly a recipe for March success, especially for a Pitino-coached squad that relies on three-point acumen.
Louisville's lack of offensive firepower has Pitino in desperate search for a solution. Saturday, he benched Kuric and Behanan, starting Wayne Blackshear and Jared Swopshire. That move didn't work. Now, with tournament play next, Pitino's search for answers continues.
The Cardinals had plenty of wide open shots against Syracuse. They simply couldn't put the ball in the basket. Chris Smith and Russ Smith were a combined 0 for 11 from the three-point line. Kuric and Blackshear weren't much better, hitting only 2 of 10 three's.
"We'll make some adjustments," said Pitino. "We know what we have to do to get ready. We'll get ready to pick up the pace, pressing more, and doing a lot of things helter skelter more to get some easy buckets. We're going to really work on our press, speeding up the tempo, trapping because the more layups you get the better you'll shoot."
Though Russ Smith gave Louisville a small dose of an offensive spark in the second half, Pitino says his sophomore guard needs to think more about passing than shooting heading into tournament action. Smith has dished out just two assists in Louisville's last four games.
"We've...got to get Russ to pass the ball," Pitino said. "It's gets to a point that if you're driving the lane and you've got guys open you have to get them the ball. He's got to start passing the basketball."
Pitino said he inserted Blackshear into the starting lineup to see if he was ready to provide his team with much-needed offensive punch. Blackshear, an accomplished scorer who averaged more than 30 points per game last season in Chicago's tough public school league, scored just four points on 1-5 shooting against Syracuse. The 6'5 Blackshear had no rebounds, blocks or steals in 13 minutes of action against the Orange.
"I had to find out about Wayne Blackshear and he answered some of my questions," Pitino said. "He's not ready to go. He's not the Wayne Blackshear that I recruited. When I watched him in high school he would grab 15 rebounds in games, block shots, create steals. He would put it on the floor and create. Now I know what he is. He can give us 12 or 13 minutes as a sub."
Pitino was pleased with how Behanan responded off the bench. The talented 6'7 freshman led the Cardinals with 10 points on 5 of 7 field goals. Behanan also grabbed 7 rebounds, including five offensive boards, two of which he slammed through the basket.
"I thought Chane was very mature," said Pitino. "I was very happy with him. I haven't been happy with his skill level - his passing, his defense. I think he'll get back in the starting lineup and we'll be ready to go."
Now, Pitino must quickly find answers for his struggling team. Louisville opens the Big East Tournament Wednesday night against the winner of the Seton Hall -Providence game. If the Cardinals hope to have better post-season success than they have the past two seasons, Pitino's players have to pick it up offensively.
"This team has much more talent than my (1987) Providence team athletically," Pitino said. "But they (the Billy Donovan-led Friars) could shoot. When you have open shots and they don't go down it's a problem. But we'll work on those things."
After opening the season 12-0 and rising to No. 4 in the national polls, Louisville finished the season 10-9. The Cardinals were 0-7 against teams that finished ahead in the Big East standings and didn't beat a team ranked in this week's Top 25.
"I'm happy with the season, we got through," said Pitino. "We've got to get ready for…(Seton Hall) or Providence. But we will be ready. We've got a good attitude."