Pitino sees similarities with Zona

One team is the NCAA Tournament's top-overall seed. The other snuck in with one of the last at large berths. But Rick Pitino says he sees eerie similarities between No. 1 seed Louisville and 12th seed Arizona heading into Friday night's Midwest Regional semifinal in Indianapolis.

"If you watch tapes of Arizona you think you're watching tapes of us," Pitino said. "The way they play is almost identical. They press the same way we press. Their zone is sort of like a halfcourt trap like we run. It's kind of eerie watching both teams how similar they are. Both teams try to cause a lot of turnovers and create havoc."

While Louisville and Arizona might play similar styles there are some key differences.

For one, Louisville entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed – Big East regular-season and tournament champs. Arizona snuck into the NCAA field as one of the last at-large bids after going 9-9 in the Pac-10.

Louisville also was the best road team in the Big East, going 8-1 away from home in the nation's top conference. The Wildcats didn't fare well outside of Tuscon, going only 2-9 on the road this season. The crowd Friday night in Indy figures to be pro-Louisville.

Even with those differences, Pitino knows what your team does prior to the post-season doesn't mean a whole lot once the NCAA Tournament starts. If he didn't learn that lesson before, he surely realized after his heavily-favored 1997 Kentucky squad lost to upstart Arizona in the NCAA championship.

"I know first-hand from 1997 sometimes you throw out the regular-season," Pitino said. "It's obvious how much talent they have and how well they're playing right now. They've got three guys – one's probably a lottery pick and the other two have the potential to play in the NBA."

That's what Louisville's focus is on this week – devising ways to slow Arizona's dangerous trio of 6-9 Jordan Hill, 6-8 Chase Budinger and 5-9 Nic Wise. Hill and Budinger, who average 18 points, are both considered NBA prospects, while Wise is one of the top point guards in the Pac-10. Wise has been particularly hot in the tournament, scoring 50 points in Arizona's first two games.


Earl Clark will square off against
Arizona's Chase Budinger in the Midwest
Regional semifinals.

"Whoever you face in the Sweet 16 is going to be an excellent basketball team," Pitino said.

With two teams that both play similar styles, Pitino says it's the little things who determine the winners and losers this deep in the NCAA Tournament.

"It comes down to shooting the basketball, creating turnovers and creating a style that wins out," Pitino said. "But now we're playing against a similar style – as similar as any team we've played this year.

"We've got to have the ability to stop one of the best centers in the nation, one of the best point guards in the nation and one of the best swingmen in the nation. That's what it comes down to - can we stop their best players? Can they stop us? Can we turn them over? Will they turn us over? There are no edges either way."

Louisville might have one big advantage over the Wildcats – Rick Pitino. Pitino has been here before. He's no stranger to NCAA Tournament games with an Elite Eight berth at stake. On the other bench, Russ Pennell, Arizona's interim coach, will coach his first regional semifinal Friday.

And know this important piece of information - Rick Pitino coached teams thrive in the regional semifinals. He's perfect in eight previous Sweet 16 games, including a win over Tennessee last year in the third round to advance to the East Region finals. If Pitino improves to 9-0 with a win over Arizona Friday, the Cardinals would face the winner of the No. 2 seed Michigan State/No. 3 seed Kansas game on Sunday.

"You just take it game by game right now," Pitino said. "We're excited to be in the Sweet 16. We just want to keep on rolling and keep on playing. It's a fun time of year, especially after you get past the first two games. The first two games are pressure. Now you can smell the Final Four. We're over the hump, rejuvenated and ready to go."


Cardinal Authority Top Stories