Date: Tuesday, December 23, 2003 Time/Location: 7:38 p.m./ Freedom Hall (18,865) Television: WDRB-TV Radio: WHAS (840 AM) Series History: First Meeting Last Meeting: U of L 83, Florida 68 (Dec. 29, 1993) U of L Ranking: AP 20th, 25th ESPN/USA Today Satellite Coordinates: SBS 6, Transponder 6 (KU Band) Officials: Greg Rennegarbe, Art McDonald, Sam Croft
Rick Pitino figures to use tonight's game against the Virginia Milltary Academy as a tune up for Saturday's Battle of the Bluegrass.
He'll want to look under the hood, make sure the tires have proper pressure and fill the tank up before heading to Lexington for this weekend's nationally televised contest against the #1 ranked Wildcats. And the Keydets should provide the perfect opportunity for a test drive before the real road test ensues in Rupp Arena.
As if playing against the top 20 Louisville Cardinals in Freedom Hall didn't provide enough of a challenge already, the VMI Keydets will be withouth their best player, forward Radee Skipworth, for tonight's game.
In their last outing, VMI dropped a close, hard fought contest to St. Francis (PA) 66-62 in which they trailed the entire second half except for two brief ties at 53 and 55 all.
"I'm proud of our players," said VMI head coach Bart Bellairs explaining the loss to St. Francis. "We did some good things, but just couldn't get over the hump. When we ran our offense, we played very well. However, every once in a while we hit the panic button."
Without Skipworth, the Keydets leading scorer, senior point guard Richard Little figures to lead the way against Louisville's full court press and multiple half court defenses. Little, who ranked sixth in NCAA Division 1 in assists last season (7.6), enters the game averaging 17.5 points over his last two games. 6'9 center Tim Allmond is the team's current leading scorer and rebounder with averages 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds.
On the other hand, Pitino knows VMI shouldn't seriously challenge his troops provided they'll respect the Keydets and perform up to their talents.
"They do certain things well," Pitino said of VMI. "But what I'm looking at from our basketball team is improvement going into the next game. If we can keep a professional attitute, continue the great defensive effort, and play fundamental basketball it'll be a productive game."
Despite preseason warnings to the contrary from their coach, Louisville has been excellent on defense this season, ranking among the national leaders in field goal percentage defense (.356, 12th) and blocked shots per game (8.7, 2nd) and figure to rely heavily on their ability to stop opponents.
"We treat every possession like it's a different basketball game," Pitino explained of his teams tenacity on defense. "We don't surrender on any possession and make it difficult [for our oppontent to score] and we've been doing a very good job with that. With the exception of allowing the three point shot we've done a very good job defensively this year."
Pitino also said he intends to tinker with his starting lineup tonight and will insert 6'7 Nate Daniels at small forward. Daniels has shown steady improvement on defense and looks to be finding his comfort level shooting the ball from the outside.
"We want to see how he performs in that role right now," Pitino said of Daniels.
On the injury front, 6'9 forward Otis George did not practice until Monday afternoon following an ankle sprain suffered late in last Saturday's game against Austin Peay but is expected to return to action tonight against VMI.
So with an expected win tonight, double practice sessions since class ended and Saturday's Battle of the Bluegrass looming, what's Pitino focused on this week in practice?
"He really wants us to concentrate on defense with this upcoming game," George said. "We're trying to get better, especially on defense."
|F||Luke Whitehead||6-6||220||Sr||14.8||9.7||San Francisco|
|F||Francisco Garcia||6-7||185||So||19.7||4.5||Bronx, NY|
|C||Kendall Dartez||6-10||225||Sr||5.7||4.8||Houston, TX|
|G||Taquan Dean||6-3||185||So||11.0||4.2||Neptune, NJ|
|G||Nate Daniels||6-7||220||Jr||5.0||2.7||San Diego, CA|
Reserves: 6'9 Nouha Diakite, 2.8, 2.3, 6'9 Otis George, 2.3, 2.0, 6'3 Alhaji Mohammad, 4.8, 1.3, 6'4 Larry O'Bannon, 8.2, 2.8, 6'3 Brandon Jenkins, 1.8, 2.0
|F||Matt Murrer||6-7||185||Fr||6.4||3.8||Richmond, VA|
|F||Sam Mielnik||6-6||210||Jr||5.1||4.1||Brooklyn, NY|
|C||Tim Allmond||6-9||220||Jr||9.3||6.5||Fredericksburg, VA|
|G||Richard Little||5-10||160||Sr||8.3||3.8||Ft. Washington, MD|
|G||Matt Coward||5-10||160||Fr||4.3||1.1||Richmond, VA|