Pitino tinkering with lineup?

After playing three games in six days last week, No. 5 Louisville (17-4, 8-1) should be well rested and ready to go Sunday afternoon in New York against St. John's (12-10, 3-7).

The Cardinals had a busy few days last week, playing USF, West Virginia and UConn in a six-day span, but haven't played since last Monday's 68-51 loss to the No. 1 Huskies.

Since that loss to UConn, Rick Pitino has toyed with idea of changing his lineup. Pitino's looking to infuse more defensive intensity into his lineup, which means sophomore guard Preston Knowles and freshman center Terrence Jennings could find themselves play more prominent roles against the Red Storm.

"Knowles has earned his right to play more minutes," Pitino said. "TJ's biggest problem is he doesn't practice well enough. He performs very well in the games but you never see it in practice. He has very poor practice habits."

While Samardo Samuels has started every game in the middle this season for the Cardinals, the 6-foot-8 freshman struggled against UConn's Hasheem Thabeet. Samuels went scoreless in 19 minutes against the Huskies 7-3 center and committed four turnovers.

"Samardo knows how to compete and looks much better in practice (than Jennings)," Pitino said. "He laces them up and wants to be the best every day. There's no question he was intimidated by Thabeet. For a freshman that's an intimating guy to go against. So he'll learn the next time he goes against Thabeet if he gets that opportunity. Samardo tries hard all the time but his weakness is his rebounding."

Knowles and Jennings have been defensive catalysts off the bench for the Cardinals this season. Knowles has 24 steals on the season, while Jennings has blocked 27 shots.

"What makes us go is our defense," Pitino said. "We're not going to change overnight and be the best shooting team in the country. We've got to be a great defensive team to stay in this conference hunt."

Terrence Jennings may see his playing
time increase. (AP Photo)

That could mean more minutes for both Knowles and Jennings.

"Obviously Preston Knowles brings us high intensity on defense," Pitino said. "Terrence Jennings brings us shot blocking. So they're two players we need to get more minutes. It's all about playing the crucial minutes and both of those guys need to get more minutes because they're very good defensively."

Pitino credits Knowles and senior guard Andre McGee for increasing defensive intensity when they come into the game.

"When Andre and Preston come in the game you see everybody pickup their defensive effort," Pitino said. "T-Will gets better. Earl (Clark) gets better. The five gets better because they see in front of them how hard those guys are working and they elevate the effort level of the other people."

Pitino would like to see Clark take his game inside more. Clark struggled last week against West Virginia and UConn, scoring just four points against the Mountaineers and five against UConn. Clark made just 2 of 16 shots against the Huskies, including only 1-6 from three-point range.

"He struggled because he stayed too much on the perimeter," Pitino said. "He didn't get to the offensive glass but even worse than that he played very poor defense. He let (offense) affect his defense, sprinting back in transition, rotating to the inside and offensive rebounding. All of that affected him. You can't be ready for the NBA if you let that happen."

Clark, Louisville's second-leading rebounder, grabbed just three boards against the Huskies – 0 on the offensive glass.

"He better mature right now if he wants to make that jump to the NBA in two months," Pitino added.

While Pitino wants to see progress from Clark, he's pleased with the improved maturity and leadership junior guard Edgar Sosa showed after the Cards loss to UConn.

"He text messaged every player on the team after the Connecticut loss, told them to keep their heads up and remember December when everybody was down and look at the January we had and don't let one loss get us down," Pitino said. "Edgar Sosa would never have done that before. For him to do that not having a great game tells you where his mind is at right now."

Pitino would like to see Clark, and a few others, to follow Sosa's lead.

"That type of attitude infiltrates (the team)," Pitino said. "Now we've got another guy to join T-Will, Andre and Preston. We're hoping by March we've got a whole flock of guys understanding they can be stopped but don't let it affect their defense, rebounding and other aspects of the game."

Now Louisville looks to get back on the winning track against St. John's, who have won two of their last four but fell 91-81 to Seton Hall on Feb. 5.

"St. John's is a meat and potatoes basketball team," Pitino said. "They play really hard and really tough man to man defense. Jim Calhoun said of all the teams they've played they're one of the hardest working teams in our conference. They make it very difficult for you to run your offense."

St. John's starts five sophomores and the Red Storm are led by guard Paris Horne and small forward D.J. Kennedy. Horne leads St. John's in scoring with 14.7 points, while Kennedy chips in 13.3 points per contest.

"They're young. They've got eight sophomores and they're growing and getting better," Pitino said. "They can beat anybody on a given night, indicative of the way they beat Notre Dame. They're not going to give you anything easy. They're going to be very physical with their low-post and perimeter defense. They're a tough basketball team.

"There's not one or two guys - they can all score. They're not the greatest outside shooting team. They rely on dribble penetration, their fast break and their low-post offense to get points."

Now halfway through a grinding Big East schedule, Pitino wants to see his team make improvements in two key areas – transition defense and cutting down on their turnovers.

"We have 19 or 20 practices left and before you know it's tournament time," Pitino said. "The games come fast now. Our goals are to win the Big East championship and go as far as we can in the NCAA Tournament and win a potential championship. I told them right now we just found out we're not good enough to compete at that level. We've got three weeks before the Big East Tournament to try to rid ourselves of our weaknesses."

Tip-off Sunday is scheduled for 1:30 and will be televised on WHAS-11.

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