U of L has 'a long way to go' on defense

With a week in between games, University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is hoping the Cardinals can improve on defense. The Cardinals are 8-1 on the season heading into Saturday's noon game against Western Kentucky University.

University of Louisville senior Luke Hancock chuckled when a reporter asked the question if this edition of the Cardinals' was going to be better known at the end of the season for its offensive prowess, rather than defense.

Hancock didn't hesitate to answer.

"No," the Final Four Most Outstanding Player said. "Rick Pitino teams are always going to be known for their defense. That's the way it's always going to be.

"We're not there yet but it's something we are working on."

Pitino has preached since the first Red-White scrimmage of the preseason that U of L needed to improve on defense, noting communication on the defensive end of the floor as the "biggest obstacle to overcome."

The Cardinals are missing point guard Peyton Siva and shot-blocker Gorgui Dieng fro the NCAA national championship team last season. But Pitino and his players say the Cardinals can still get to where they want on defense.

Through nine games, opponents are hitting 40.5 percent from the field against the Cardinals – which is over two percent higher than last season during the same stretch. But Pitino said it's about more than just the statistics.

"This is a very immature team," Pitino said. "They're caught up in talking trash. They're not concentrating on making their offense or defense better. That's OK AAU time. That's not OK when you're getting ready to defend your national title.

"We're trying just to be average defensively, just average. If we can be average, it will turn into good."

Average can turn into good because of the little things the Cardinals must do to please Pitino on the defensive end of the floor.

Pitino wants the defense to be suffocating, limiting foes with the team's man-to-man and zone defenses like they did last season. The title team held six opponents in its first nine games under 54 points, while this team has held four.

Some of the difference could be related to the rules changes, which have made playing defense a bit tougher for everybody.

"Defensively, we've just got a long way to go," Pitino said.

The Hall of Fame coach later added on the defense that "a lot of it is just not reading the basketball well - and Chris (Jones) is struggling with that, Terry (Rozier) struggles with that, Russ (Smith) struggles with that, Mangok (Mathiang) struggles with that. But once they get it and they realize how the ball should be moved and react to that, then there won't be as many wide-open shots.

The interior defense, look, people are going to go by people. It's a dream for Russ Smith to have these new rules. It's a dream. You can't put your hands on guys that can get flat out in the lane, and when the ball is being moved around, it's silly to even shoot a jump shot. You know you need to drive."

Added Hancock: "We are no where near where we were last year but we're working on it. We have spurts when it's good, we just need to get better."

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