The Cardinals, 0-1 in the Big East, currently check in at #95 in the Sagarin ratings. The loss to the Irish also dropped Louisville to just 6-11 in the Big East since joining the conference last season.
Because of his previously scheduled recruiting trip to the west coast, Pitino did not show up for his weekly radio show at O'Charley's restaurant Thursday night. Assistant Kevin Willard pinch hit for the absent Pitino. Willard probably would have rather been out on the road recruiting himself, especially after taking some heat from the show's first two callers, including one fans who was obviously upset that Pitino didn't show after the loss to the Irish.
Put on the defensive, Willard responded, "You can take it for what you want, but there are some guys out there that we're recruiting and that we want to take a look at." Pitino wrote on his website, RickPitino.com, Tuesday, the day before his team's loss to Notre Dame, that he would be making the recruiting trip.
It's uncertain who Pitino and assistant Marvin Menzies will be watching while out west, though the Cardinals currently have a verbal commitment from Jeff Withey, a 7-0 junior from San Diego and are also recruiting Edgar Garibay, a 6-10 junior from Compton who visited Louisville last month.
Back in Louisville, perhaps one good sign for the Cardinals in the loss to Notre Dame was the play of sophomore forward Terrence Williams. Williams has struggled early in the season with his shooting from the floor, but hit 7-12 shots against the Irish, including 4-7 three-pointers to lead Louisville with 18 points. Williams did miss all three of his free throws, though.
"He's starting to find his rhythm a little bit," Willard said. "We need that one big shot to open up the flood gates. I still think these guys are going to start knocking down shots."
The Cards entered Big East play having won five straight games after losing 61-49 to Kentucky Dec. 16. But an old bug-a-boo again did the Cardinals in against the Irish – falling behind big in the first half. Louisville made just 10-25 first half shots, including 3-11 three's and trailed Notre Dame 43-29 at halftime. The Cards have trailed at haftime in all five losses this season (UMass 41-26; Arizona 44-35; Dayton 29-23; Kentucky 27-24)
"We just didn't get the job done," Willard said. "We're still trying to find the right combinations on offense. We couldn't make a couple shots, got in the hole and couldn't get out. We just can't get off to a good start, which is perplexing."
Notre Dame out-rebounded the Cards and also did a great job against Louisville's full-court pressure, primarily because of the superb ball-handling of freshman point guard Tory Jackson. The Irish committed just nine turnovers. "To only turn it over nine times versus a team that was pretty much pressing us the whole way says an awful lot about our basketball IQ," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "It was a great way to start the league schedule."
Willard said the Cardinals had a long practice session Thursday and hinted that the team would get in as much work as possible before school starts again next Monday. "I think we're going back after this show," Willard joked. "We're still staying after it."
Louisville next game is at South Florida next Wednesday. The Cardinals have dropped their last eight Big East road games and haven't found the win column on the road since downing Providence 72-67 in their first-ever Big East game Jan. 5, 2006.