Cards ready for physical affair vs. Oklahoma

Rick Pitino compared Boise State, No. 3-seed Louisville's first round NCAA Tournament opponent, to BYU. Now, Pitino thinks the Cardinals second round foe – No. 6-seed Oklahoma – reminds him of a team Louisville has become extremely familiar with in the Big East conference.

Rick Pitino compared Boise State, No. 3-seed Louisville's (25-8) first round NCAA Tournament opponent, to BYU. Now, Pitino thinks the Cardinals second round foe – No. 6-seed Oklahoma (23-11) – reminds him of a team Louisville has become extremely familiar with in the Big East conference.

How's this comparison for you Louisville fans? Pitino believes the Sooners resemble Pittsburgh, the last team to beat the Cardinals in the Big East Tournament.

"They're a little bit like Pittsburgh," Pitino said. "They're very physical and have a very good inside presence. They are very good defensively."


Louisville will need a strong performance from
Earl Clark against tough-minded Oklahoma.

Louisville split a pair of games with the Panthers during the season, winning 75-73 before falling in overtime 76-69 in the Big East quarterfinals. Those two physical contests should have Louisville well prepared for what they'll face in Oklahoma.

"In the Big East the low-post game is a big presence," Pitino said. "You get it with (DaJuan) Blair at Pittsburgh. You get it with (Roy) Hibbert at Georgetown. Connecticut had a strong low-post presence with (Jeff) Adrian and Thabeet. In the Big East you'll find a strong low-post presence."

What they'll face in the Sooners is a rugged and talented frontcourt led by 6-11, 234-pound center Longar Longar and 6-10, 243-pound forward Blake Griffin, one of the nation's top freshmen. Griffin leads Oklahoma with 14. 9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, while Longar adds 11.7 points and 5.7 boards.

"We know we have a tough ball game against a very physical team – a team that can do damage in different ways with so many different players," Pitino said. "They've got a terrific low-post presence and they're very good at the defensive end. We know defensively we've got our work cut out for us."

While Pitino wouldn't give away his game-plan for stopping Griffin and Longar, it won't be much of a surprise if Louisville's relentless full-court press and stingy 2-3 zone are a major part of his strategy.

"I think he's tremendous. He's one of the premier freshmen in the nation," Pitino said of Griffin. "But Longar Longar is also a big problem in the low-post. He's an offensive threat as well. So you've got a double edged sword there."

Though Louisville has several answers inside to match Griffin and Longar, the Cardinals don't want this game to come down to a simple battle of the big men.

"This will be kind of the battle of our bigs and their bigs with Blake Griffin and Longar Longar," Louisville junior forward Terrence Williams said. "We can't make it David Padgett and Earl Clark against those two. We have to make it a team game. This should be a fast-paced, physical Big East type game."

What Louisville might hope to exploit is Oklahoma's tendency to turn the ball over. The Sooners had more turnovers than assists on the season (427-to-435) and their front court starters make the bulk of those misues. Both Griffin and Longar had more turnovers than assists, with Longar being the biggest culprit (85 turnovers-to-44 assists).

"Oklahoma is a very big team and they are very physical," Jerry Smith added. "They have great inside play, big guards and they shoot it well."

Smith, who has struggled late in the season with his outside shooting, seemed to find his touch in Louisville's 79-61 first round victory over Boise State, connecting on 4-8 three's. The Broncos, one of the top offensive teams in the tournament, presented a different set of challenges than will Oklahoma, who prefers a physical, defensive-minded style.

"I think we're ready for any style and so is Oklahoma," Pitino said. "They see every style in the Big XII and so do we. When you play in conferences like we do you see every style."

The Cardinals will also have to keep a close eye on 6-5 guard David Godbold. Godbold scored a career-high 25 points in Oklahoma's first round win over St. Joseph's and made a trio of three's to extend the Sooners lead to 19 to begin the second half. Godbold is averaging just 6.9 points for the season.

"You never know who's going to step up in a basketball game," Pitino said. "Obviously last night we were trying to stop the three-point shot and keep them out of the middle of the floor. We were trying to create turnovers and make sure they didn't have their legs when they did get the three-point shot. So every opponent brings a different set of circumstances that you have to stop."

While Louisville has never beaten Oklahoma in three attempts – the Cardinals lost a regional semifinal game against the Sooners in 1988 in Birmingham 108-98 – the Cards are 3-1 against No. 6-seeds in the NCAA Tournament all-time.

The Cardinals also have this going for them – a tough schedule that should have them ready for all comers in the NCAA Tournament. In the first round, Big East teams went 7-1. Louisville was 8-3 against those teams. And at least one Big East team – West Virginia – already had advanced to the Sweet 16 on Saturday.

Will Louisville join the Mountaineers in the Sweet 16 next week?

"I call it the Big Beast because that's what it is," Pitino said. "It's a very tough league comprised of very tough kids and very talented teams."

Louisville and Oklahoma are set to tip about 5 p.m. Sunday.


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