After falling to WKU two weeks ago, Rick Pitino made rebounding a big issue for the Cardinals. Louisville was out-rebounded in two of their first three games this season, including 48-36 to WKU. The Cardinals made progress on the rebounding front in the past three games, out-rebounding Indiana State by 10, Ohio by 20 and Lamar by 15.
"I think the third game all three teams were a little tired," Pitino said of his team's performance against Lamar in their last outing. "But we certainly improved our rebounding. It was a point of emphasis all week."
Now the Cards are set to host Austin Peay, who has won four straight and improved its record to 2-0 in the OVC with an 81-73 win over Eastern Illinois last weekend.
"(Austin Peay) has a lot of players back from last year's team," Pitino said. "They're the most talented team we (will) have played. That doesn't take anything away from Western (Kentucky) who beat us. But this team is very, very good."
"They've got a great player at the power forward spot, he's terrific - Reed," Pitino said. "He's capable of doing big things – scoring, taking on double-teams."
Reed scored a career-high 37 points in the win over Eastern Illinois. Reed leads a good shooting team – a group that has won the past two OVC titles. The Governors lost 75-54 to Texas in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament.
"They shoot the ball great from the two-three. Look at their percentages from the three-point line..they're field goal percentage is 48 percent," said Pitino. "They're a terrific offensive basketball team. This team executes extremely well. This is a tough game."
During the Maybin Classic, Pitino saw two of his veterans – Earl Clark and Jerry Smith - have breakthrough games. Pitino also saw freshman center Samardo Samuels continue to dominate in the paint offensively. Samuels averaged 15 points in the three game event, joining Clark, Smith and Terrence Williams on the All-tournament team.
The Cardinals also received strong contributions from two other freshmen, reserve centers Terrence Jennings and George Goode. Jennings scored six points against both Ohio and Lamar and had six rebounds and two assists. Goode had 5 points, 4 rebounds and three blocked shots against Indiana State.
"I do think our freshmen are making great strides, especially Terrence Jennings and George Goode," said Pitino. "Terrence had a very difficult time just picking up the scheme offensively and defensively. He's doing much better. Both guys are surprising me to say the least. Judging by the first five weeks of practice I wouldn't have thought either one would have gotten off the bench. Now they're both contributing strongly and catching up to Samardo."
Goode, who sat out last season and couldn't practice or workout with the team, had 7 points, 9 rebounds and five blocks against Morehead State earlier this season. He currently ranks ninth in the Big East in blocked shots with 1.5 per game.
"He's a really good shot blocker," Pitino said. "Rebounds per minute played and blocked shots per minute played he gets the job done. I was really worried that we'd only have one five man. But now we're much more confident in both guys."
Louisville will need the added depth for a tough stretch of games coming up. After playing Austin Peay, things will get much tougher for the Cardinals. Louisville will play two neutral site games 39 hours and 1,860 miles apart. UofL will play Mississippi (6-2) Thursday, Dec. 18 in the SEC/Big East Invitational in Cincinnati, before traveling to Phoenix to play Minnesota (8-0) Saturday, Dec. 20.
"The thing I like about this team the most is we're nowhere near our potential," Pitino said. "If you watch Carolina you know they're the best team in the country – by far. They have a few new players but the majority of their players no their system. We've got six new players and it's just going to take us some time to develop."
"From this point on those lopsided victories aren't going to be there anymore," Pitino added.