After opening the season with four straight wins – three at home, one neutral court – Louisville lost their first game of the season last Saturday at UNLV 76-71 in their first road game of the year. The Cardinals trailed by 19 early in the second half, but used a 30-11 run to tie the game at 62 with less than five minutes remaining.
But Louisville couldn't get over the hump down the stretch. Still, Rick Pitino said it was a great learning experience for his young team.
"I think they could have easily lost that game by 20 points and they would have come home a defeated basketball team," Pitino said. "Instead, they came home with a defeat on the schedule but they're not defeated. They would have questioned themselves if they didn't fight back and taken that game to the wire."
Louisville's biggest problems against UNLV came on defense. The Rebels shot 55 percent against the Cardinals in the first half on their way to a 10-point lead at the break. With the game on the line late, UofL couldn't find a way to come up with crucial stops against the Rebels.
"I found out that they're willing to stand up and fight, but they also made some bad defensive plays down the stretch," added Pitino. "We've got to get a lot better defensively, I've said that from day one. We let them shoot 55 percent in the first half and with the game on the line we did not contain the basketball, we let them go by us and the interior guys didn't block the shot when they got by our guards."
Stetson, 2-4, shouldn't pose much problem for the Cardinals.
"We're going to work on that and improve," Pitino said. "This team [Stetson] goes off the bounce very well so it will be good for us."
"I think Reggie Delk starting will help us," Pitino said. "Reggie can be the best defensive player on the team because he's very long. Our length is not as good as it was last year. Having Reggie in the starting lineup I'm hoping gives us a big lift."
Pitino also said he's going to start Rakeem Buckles instead of Jared Swopshire at power forward. Buckles has had double-figure rebounds in UofL's last two games, including a 10 point, 11 rebound effort against UNLV.
Peyton Siva also won't play against Stetson because of a sprained wrist. With Siva out, Pitino said Jerry Smith will relieve Edgar Sosa at the point. Smith has struggled early this season, making only 19 percent from the three-point line. Smith hasn't scored in double-figures since the season opening win over Arkansas.
"Jerry is taking a lot of challenged shots. That's why he's not shooting well," Pitino said. "I'll bet you Jerry is shooting the ball very well but 40 percent of his shots are challenged shots and he's going to shoot less than 20 percent when he takes challenged shots."
While Smith has struggled, Sosa is off to a great start this season. Sosa scored a team-high 18 points vs. UNLV and is averaging nearly 14 points per contest.
"Edgar is playing extremely well," Pitino said. "He's playing great basketball. He's doing things from a cerebral standpoint and a physical standpoint. He's doing a really good job for us. I think he's totally focused on helping the team win and that's why he's playing well. It's taken a while for him to do that and now his last hurdle is to improve his defense and he'll be one of the better point guards in the country."
GAME FACTS - Louisville (4-1) vs. Stetson (2-4)
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 2
Time: 7:07 p.m.
Site: Crum Court / Freedom Hall (18,865), Louisville, Ky. (UofL 672-137 all-time in Freedom Hall)
TV: WHAS (Ch. 11 in Louisville) will televise the game with Drew Deener (play-by-play) and Bob Valvano (analyst)
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) with Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Doug Ormay (analyst). Also: joined in progress on WHAS (840 AM)
Series History: U of L leads 4-1 all-time (3-0 in Louisville, 1-0 in Deland, 0-1 neutral)
National Ranking: U of L is ranked 18th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll and 20th in the Associated Press Poll this week; Stetson is unranked.
Next U of L Game: Dec. 5 vs. Charlotte, 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPNU)