U of L says rebounding will be crucial against UK

With their annual showdown against No. 9 Kentucky just four days away, University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says his team will be focused on becoming more proficient on the boards.

No. 13 Louisville (6-1) didn't bring their "A" game in a 34-point victory against an out-classed North Carolina A & T squad Tuesday night. If the Cardinals hope to win their next game, Saturday's annual showdown with No. 9 Kentucky, Rick Pitino's squad will have to be firing on all cylinders.

Riding a five-game winning streak into this weekend's clash with the Wildcats, Pitino's team has proven they have the ability to overcome obstacles. Against a big and physical Kentucky frontline, Louisville will have to prove it can overcome one more obstacle; it's problems rebounding the basketball.

"We do a lot of good things on offense but you can't win consistently unless you rebound the basketball," Pitino said. "Every team has weaknesses and that's ours. We just have to keep working on it and improve."

You can be certain Pitino will spend the next four days of practice prior to the UK game drilling his team on the finer points of rebounding. And it's a sure bet that blocking out the opponent will be a major focus for Pitino heading into this Saturday's showdown.

"We're still not doing the things blockout-wise [we should]," Pitino lamented Tuesday night after his team allowed 21 offensive rebounds to N.C. A & T. "My substitution pattern for the UK game is going to be whoever doesn't block out will come out of the game. You can't be a small team and not block out."

"We've got to get everybody blocking out," Pitino continued. "It's the only way we can win. We've got about four days to cure our [rebounding] ills."

And finding a quick solution will be no easy task against a UK frontcourt that starts 6-10 center Randolph Morris (4.6 rpg), 6-6 bruiser Chuck Hayes (9.9) at power forward, and 6-4 Kellena Azubuike (5.3) at small forward. 7-3 Shagari Alleyne, Kentucky's top frontcourt reserve, has shown considerable improvement this season and averages almost five rebounds per game.

"The next couple days we've got to get better with our rebounding and blocking out," U of L small forward Francisco Garcia, who averages 5.1 rebounds, said.

And U of L shooting guard Larry O'Bannon, who grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds against North Carolina A & T, concurred with Garcia's assessment.

"Rebound," O'Bannon said when asked the key to beating Kentucky for a third straight season. "If we play like we're capable of playing we'll be fine."

Pitino and the Cardinals could also get a boost on the boards from 6-8 senior Otis George. George, U of L's second leading rebounder at 6.5 per game, has missed the Cardinals past two games because of a foot injury. Pitino said Tuesday night that every effort will made to get George back on the court against Kentucky.

"We tried to warm him up tonight [against N.C. A & T] for the first time," Pitino said of George. "We have very little shot of winning without Otis. We have to get him ready for this [Kentucky] game."

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