Eaves' young team, which boasts three players from the Louisville Metro area, including leading scorer Sean Booker (Ballard), has struggled out of the gate this season, losing seven of their first eight games. Despite their troubles, U of L coach Rick Pitino says this is an important contest for his Cardinals as they get ready for Saturday's battle against nationally ranked Kentucky.
"What we're trying to do right now because we've been so banged up is just to improve," Pitino said. "Every game that we play we just want to get a "W" and improve."
What Pitino is hoping to see tonight is improvement on defense and with his team's ability to rebound. Two areas that will be critical Saturday against the Wildcats.
"We still have tremendous strides to make defensively and with our rebounding," Pitino said. "So we're just trying to improve on those areas."
Even with their impressive 74-70 win over Florida last weekend, the undersized Cardinals, who have no starter or reserve taller than 6-8, were badly outrebounded by Billy Donovan's Gators. Still, Pitino believes his team can improve on the boards provided they become more proficient in terms of blocking out.
"There have been a lot of short teams that have been successful [rebounding teams] if they're great blockout teams," Pitino said. "And that's where we've got to make tremendous strides."
With Kentucky expected to pound the Cardinals inside with their bruising style this weekend, Pitino said he expects Eaves' squad to play a contrasting uptempo, full court style tonight.
"There's going to be a lot of steals in this game for both teams," Pitino said. "There will be a lot of open court play and they'll press all over the court."
One area that Pitino seems pleased with heading into tonight's game is the way his team overcame numerous obstacles against Florida on the road and hung on to victory. A fact, Pitino hopes, will propel his team to even bigger successes the rest of the season.
"They had to fight all the way to get a victory," Pitino said. "We had to overcome a short bench, short stature, foul trouble and cramps. It was a gutsy win for us and a great road victory. We had to mentally tough to win that game."
"A lot of teams could have folded but they didn't," Pitino continued. "The leadership of Francisco even when he isn't in the game is quite evident."
But the key for Pitino tonight is to see continued improvement from his team on the court.
"We're just looking to improve everyday," Pitino said. "We don't have the luxury of thinking about anything except improvement. If we don't continue to improve, we'll have no shot against...Kentucky."
Two other North Carolina A & T players, senior guard Steven Koger and freshman forward Demetrious Goins will also be making their homecoming tonight. Koger was a standout at Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park, while Goins starred at North Hardin the past few seasons.