Pitino looking for defensive improvement

Rick Pitino will be looking for defensive improvement from Louisville Wednesday night against Oral Roberts as his Cardinals try to snap a two-game losing streak.

'Tis the season for Rick Pitino's basketball team to make needed improvements

With the semester break at hand, Pitino expects his team to use unlimited practice time to improve in several deficient areas, primarily at the defensive end. Defensive lapses, suspect rebounding, spotty free throw shooting and turnovers cost Louisville in losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina the past two games.

Now 5-3 on the season, the Cardinals are coming off a 'disappointing' 91-83 setback Western Carolina on Saturday. Despite hitting more field goals, Louisville dropped their second consecutive game because they allowed the Catamounts to shoot 51 percent from the floor, including 10 of 27 from three, committed 21 turnovers and shot just 59 percent at the free throw line.

Louisville has been hard at work in practice trying to fix those problems with Oral Roberts coming into Freedom Hall Wednesday night.

"We've got another tough home game, this team is very talented," Pitino said. "We expect to make improvements during this stretch because we'll now start unlimited time in practice and we certainly need it. This is a welcome time of year for us."

Rick Pitino hopes to see better defense vs. Oral Roberts.
Oral Roberts has won three of its last four games and claims wins against Missouri and Stanford this season. Oral Roberts lost 60-54 to Indiana State last Sunday.

"I've set three goals for myself," Pitino said. "One is to really improve the fundamentals of this basketball team because we have nobody to eraser mistakes on this team. The second thing I want to do is get out there and recruit. We have got to come up with a wing player for next year. It's crucial. And the third thing is to make sure we don't get discouraged and lose sight of the big plan."

While there are leaks all over the Cardinals ship, the biggest problem for Pitino is his team's defense. Louisville allowed 91 points against Western Carolina and 87 points in the loss to Charlotte.

"We're breaking down in transition and it's killing our defense," Pitino said. "Our half court defense [needs improvement] but it's not bad. It's our transition defense that's giving up three's and easy shots. We're going to develop a different type of scheme so we don't have those problems any more. Transition defense is all about communicating. That's been our major weakness from the beginning of practice."

Western Carolina and Charlotte both made 10 three-pointers against Louisville. Both teams also shot more free throws than the Cardinals.

"This is the first team I've had that has given up three like this," Pitino said. "We're giving up the three and [opponents] are shooting way too high a percentage. We lost the Charlotte game and the Western Carolina game because of it."

Pitino said he saw improvement Monday in practice, especially from Terrence Jennings.

"This team has got to be 10 guys working in unison to reach their potential," Pitino said. "We have got to become a great defensive team with five guys covering for each other. It takes more of an emphasis on little things."

Though Samardo Samuels has struggled early this season, Pitino is sticking with the 6'9 sophomore in the starting lineup. Pitino isn't expected to make major changes against Oral Roberts with Jared Swopshire and Reginald Delk starting at forward and Edgar Sosa and Preston Knowles in the back court.

"The answer to losing is not benching people," Pitino said. "The answer is getting more out of people, improving the defensive effort and getting better. These guys have got to pay their dues and become better basketball players."

"We could make changes [to the starting lineup] but that would be out of panic and I'm too old to panic," Pitino added.

UofL has lost three games before Christmas for the third time in the last four seasons under Pitino. Pitino's teams typically have been slow starters in December but turn it on after New Year.

"This is a basketball team that has enough talent to be a good team," Pitino said. "The good thing about this team is the players have upside. Samardo Samuels, Terrence Jennings, [Jared] Swopshire and Peyton Siva...have tremendous upside. They've got a lot of improvement they can make."

Tip-off against Oral Roberts is at 7:07 Wednesday night.

"I'm disappointed but not discouraged," said Pitino. "We've got to become a more precise, fundamental basketball team. If we can get that we could be a very good basketball team in February. But we've got to roll up our sleeves because our schedule is very tough."

NOTE Pitino said that sophomore center George Goode still is not practicing with the team. "He's probably another week away," Pitino said. Goode suffered a bone bruise to his knee last week in practice.

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