Date: Thursday, December 4, 2003 Time/Location: 8:38 p.m./ Gaylord Entertainment Center (16,486) Television: WDRB-TV Radio: WHAS (840 AM) Series History: WKU leads 38-32 Last Meeting: U of L 65, WKU 68 (Dec. 9, 2000 in Louisville) U of L Ranking: NR Satellite Coordinates: SBS 6, Transponder 6 (KU Band) Officials: Steve Welmer, Michael Kitts, Tim Higgins
Coming off a one point overtime loss in the season opener against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the University of Louisville will face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers tonight in Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Western, under the guidance of first year head coach Darrin Horn, enters the game against the Cardinals 0-3 on the season. The Hilltoppers have opened the season with losses to Auburn, Mississippi State and Virginia Commonwealth. In their last outing, the Toppers dropped a close one down the stretch to Mississippi State, falling 81-75 in Bowling Green in a contest that was tied at halftime.
"Once again I think you saw a young team on our part, with four new starters, playing against an unbelievably talented Mississippi State team," said Western head coach Darrin Horn. "I don't think you can ask for much more than the shot we got when we were down two, it just didn't go in. I'm proud of my guys down the stretch for the way they continued to battle. I felt like we put together a 40-minute effort tonight, which is something we lacked the first two games."
Horn's team is led by 6'4 sophomore guard Anthony Winchester (17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds), 6'9, 350 pound junior center Nigel Dixon (14.7, 6), 6'3 senior forward Mike Wells (13.3, 5.3), and 6'9 forward Todor Pandov (8.3, 3.2). Winchester provides Horn a reliable outside shooter capable of extending defenses. He's 8-21 from beyond the arch through three games. Dixon is an unmovable object in the post who gives the Toppers a low post scoring presence. Wells, though undersized, provides toughness, experience and athleticism on the wing, while Pandov has the ability to shoot from deep from the power forward position. WKU will be without two regular contributors in Nick Hill and Kevin Massiah because of injury.
Following the loss to Iowa, 6'7 junior forward Nate Daniels said practice this week has been a lot more intense and that he and the team have something to prove against the Hilltoppers.
"It's been a lot more intense," Daniels said of this week's practice session. "Guys are trying to get after it a lot more trying to prove that we're ready to win and play together."
Daniels said Pitino has focused the Cards in practice this week on two areas of concern: transition defense and execution on offense following the 70-69 defeat to the Hawkeyes.
"We were just standing around a lot [on offense] and that's something we need to work on," Daniels explained. "We put so much emphasis on defense that we didn't keep focused on offense."
Louisville, who was hurt inside and on the backboard by Iowa last Saturday, out scoring and rebounding the Cards inside the paint, will face a similar opponent in Western.
"Actually I think Western is better than Iowa," Pitino said. "Because they have more experience, they pose the same problem that Iowa did to a certain extent, except that they add another one hundred pounds to their five man.
Pitino, of course, was referring to the Hilltoppers Nigel Dixon, who transferred from Florida State.
"He's a very good basketball player and he's much better than I ever anticipated," Pitino said. "They've got excellent shooting from the outside, so if you double team they take advantage of it. When you break down the teams the match-ups are pretty equal except at the five spot."
During the preseason, Pitino constantly voiced concern about his teams defense but against Iowa it was the offense that struggled throughout the game. Pitino says the Cardinals guards need to get the post players more involved in the offense to be effective at the scoring end of the floor.
"I think our guys are getting used to each other offensively," Pitino said. "I don't think they have a lot of confidence in our post players so they think they're better off just driving and dishing off to them. And they can't do that because our offense has to go inside to out. Yesterday was one of our best offensive practices understanding that."
In a game slated as a neutral court contest, Pitino said Western fans will out number Louisville fans tonight in the Gaylord Entertainment center by some 3 or 4 to 1 and expects a hostile crowd and a tough, road like environment that his team will be forced to play.
"We need to go on the road an play this type of game," Pitino said. "We have Kentucky lurking right around the corner and this type of hostility and environment is good for what this team needs. So I think crowds like this are very good for us."
Though 6'9 center Nouha Diakite will not play tonight, Pitino said yesterday he expects the junior college transfer to be back on the court very soon, possibly when the Cards return home Sunday to play Ralph Willard's Holy Cross team.
PROJECTED STARTING LINE-UPS
Western Kentucky Head Coach Darren Horn hit the game winning three pointer against Louisville in 1993, when the Hilltoppers defeated the Cards in Freedom Hall. Horn, a first year head coach is looking for his first career win.
Louisville shot the three pointer well against Iowa, making 11 from beyond the arch and connected on 40% of its threes. In three games, Western has made 19 threes.
Western quality of depth drops off after the sixth player. Players number seven and eight average about 15 minutes apiece but contribute less than 2 points and 2 boards per game.
Looking for a weakness in the Hilltoppers arsenal? For starters, their assist to turnover ratio isn't good. The Toppers have just 40 assists to 53 turnovers through three games, while three of the five starters have more turnovers than assists on the season. Meanwhile, Louisville's swarming defense forced Iowa into 18 turnovers in Conseco Fieldhouse.
Western's biggest advantage over the Cards? If it's a half court game, possibly Nigel Dixon on the block. But don't expect that to happen. If that's the case, WKU's advantage lies in the fact that its fan support will fired up and ready for this one.
U of L is 2-0 in neutral court games played in Nashville, defeating Middle Tennessee in the 1982 NCAA Tournament and Memphis for the Missouri Valley Conference playoff in 1972.
Tickets still remain for Louisville's Thursday night game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Nashville and can be ordered over the phone by calling 852-5151.