Pitino expects no letdown against Toledo

Fresh off an upset of top ranked Kentucky, #11 Louisville (7-1) will welcome the offensive minded Toledo Rockets (7-1) to Freedom Hall tonight.

Date Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Time/Location 7:38 p.m./ Freedom Hall (18,865)
Television WDRB-TV
Radio WHAS (840 AM)
Series History Louisville leads 6-1
U of L Ranking AP 11th
Satellite Coord. SBS 6, Transp 6 (KU Band)
Officials Tom O'Neil, Mike Sanzere, Kevin Mathis

Don't even think it. It's simply won't happen.

Even if you're not a gambler, rest assured this fact is a safe bet. Despite the fact that #11 Louisville is coming off Saturday's seismic win over rival Kentucky in Rupp Arena, there will be no let down tonight against the deep and talented Toledo Rockets. And U of L head coach Rick Pitino says you can take that to the bank.

"They're much better than even their record indicates," Pitino said of the Rockets. "This is a team that my team will definately be up for. Once they watched Toledo, they forgot all about Kentucky."

Toledo enters the game as a battle tested road team, having won five of six games this season away from home. And the Rockets do it with offense.

Sammy Villegas 
Led by 6'3 Keith Triplett, who dropped 29 points in the second half against DePaul and shoots 50 percent from beyond the arch (19.4), and 6'6 Sammy Villegas (14.3), the 2003 MAC Freshman of the Year, the Rockets lead the Mid American Conference in nearly every major offensive category.

"Their two and three men are as dynamic a combo as there is in college basketball," Pitino said of Villegas and Triplett. "Triplett's as good a two guard as we'll see come in here. Villegas is also a great, great player. When you watch him, you'll think you're watching Francisco Garcia. That's how good he is."

Unlike Lousville, who played an emotionally charged game just three days ago, Toledo has had eight days since beating Wright State 103-66 to prepare for their trip to Freedom Hall.

"Playing against Louisville will certainly be our toughest test of the season," Toledo head coach Stan Joplin said. "We'll need to try to keep them off the boards and prevent them from getting on any big scoring runs so we can keep the game close."

Pitino says the key to getting ready to play a game like this following a big rivalry win is really very simple.

"Preparation, focus, respect for your opponent, and humility," Pitino said explaining the secret of his team's success after big games. "When we play Toledo we have an unbelievable amount of respect for their abilities. We showed unbelievable character, as much as any team I've coached, against Kentucky."

Instead of having a negative impact on his team's play, Pitino senses Saturday's win is having the opposite effect.

"I'm seeing a change in the entire team," Pitino said. "Their self esteem is very high."

Pitino will also make another change to his starting five tonight, reinserting 6'4 Larry O'Bannon back into the starting lineup after the junior scored 11 points Saturday in U of L's win over Kentucky.

"We're going to need him to guard Triplett in this game," Pitino said.

Probable Starting Lineups

Louisville (7-1) Ht Wt Yr PPG RPG Hometown
F Luke Whitehead 6-6 220 Sr 14.4 9.9 San Francisco
F Francisco Garcia 6-7 185 So 17.5 4.9 Bronx, NY
C Kendall Dartez 6-10 225 Sr 5.0 4.4 Houston, TX
G Taquan Dean 6-3 185 So 12.8 4.1 Neptune, NJ
G Larry O'Bannon 6-4 195 Jr 7.8 2.9 Louisville

Reserves: 6'9 Nouha Diakite 2.3, 2.2, 6'9 Otis George  4.4, 3.0, 6'3 Alhaji Mohammad 5.1, 1.6, 6'7 Nate Daniels 5.9, 2.1, 2.8, 6'3 Brandon Jenkins 1.6, 1.8

Toledo (7-1) Ht Wt Yr PPG RPG Hometown
F Kareem Milson 6-7 225 Jr 3.4 2.0 Toronto
C A.J. Shellabarger 6-9 250 Sr 4.3 2.9 Calina, OH
G Justin Ingram 6-2 180 Fr 10.3 2.8 Lansing, MI
G Sammy Villegas 6-6 204 So 14.3 3.0 Lima, OH
G Keith Triplett 6-3 183 Sr 19.4 5.1 Toledo

Reserves:  6'5 Florencio Valencia, 6'10 Allen Pinson, 6'1 Rashay Russell, 6'7 Ricardo Thomas


  • Pitino said at Monday afternoon's press conference that junior guard Larry O'Bannon would be reinserted into tonight's starting lineup.
  • The Rockets lead the MAC in points points per game (80.5), field goal percentage (48.5), and three point field goal percentage (44.1).
  • Toledo enters the game ranked #22 in the Sagarin Computer Ranking.
  • Sammy Villegas has scored in double figures in every game this season after moving to shooting guard after earning MAC Freshman of the Year honors last season.
  • Toledo relies heavily on five freshmen; Allen Pinson, Keonta Howell (7.1 minutes), Florencio Vallecia, Justin Ingram, Rashay Russell each average more than 12.0 minutes per game.
  • Toledo's bench has outscored and outrebounded its opponents in every game this season.
  • The Rockets are 14th nationally in free throw shooting (77.1).
  • Louisville ranks first in C-USA in field goal percentage defense (.350), three point field goal percentage (.392), free throw percentage (.716), blocked shots (7.8) and three point field goals (9.3).
  • The Cards have won 21 consecutive non-conference games in Freedom Hall during the regular season.

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