Cards face tough test against Hilltoppers

Louisville hopes to exact revenge against Western Kentucky for last year's 68-54 loss in Nashville Saturday at Freedom Hall.

Louisville snapped a two-game losing streak Wednesday with a 94-57 win over Oral Roberts. Now the Cardinals hope to exact revenge against Western Kentucky, who won last year's game between the two teams 68-54 in Nashville.

Led by senior guard A.J. Slaughter, the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, the Hilltoppers have won three straight. Slaughter leads three starters in double-figures with a 16.4 scoring average. WKU beat then-No. 24 Vanderbilt in their last outing Dec. 11.

"This will probably be the best team we've faced this year," Pitino said. "They remind me in many ways of UNLV with a better inside attack. They're an experienced team and they have talent. They're a really good basketball team."

After losing consecutive games against Charlotte and Western Carolina, Rick Pitino saw improvement from his team in the win over the Catamounts, particularly with their first half play.

"I think they played hard in the second half I don't think they were as smart offensively," Pitino said. "It was the first time in the first half we saw some semblance of last year with the ball movement, the dribble to make the extra pass, the offensive rebound and throwout. In the second half they all went for their points which is pretty normal for a 30-point lead."

Pitino has been harping on his team to improve on the defensive end after allowing 87 and 91 points in losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina. The Cardinals held Oral Roberts to just 39 percent shooting, while holding them to only 2 of 17 shooting from the three-point line. Charlotte and Western Carolina both made 10 three-pointers against Louisville.

"We're improving [on defense], but we're young," said Pitino. "We have very soft and quiet personalities on this team. They'd be great in church but in terms of talking and playing smash-mouth defense it's lacking right now."

Pitino also has been working hard in practice trying to improve the fundamentals of big men Samardo Samuels, Terrence Jennings and Rakeem Buckles.

"We don't lack ability we lack fundamentals," Pitino said. "When it's nine or ten players that need work on their fundamentals it just takes time and patience. We're working on the fundamentals of our bigs. [They] have to become better passers."

Though Samuels, a 6-9 sophomore, leads the team in scoring and rebounding, he's taken some criticism early this season for 'soft' play around the rim and a perceived lack of effort on defense and on the boards. Samuels grabbed just two rebounds in 26 minutes in the loss to Western Carolina and was beaten down the court for easy baskets by the Catamounts center.

"A lot of people right now are down on Samardo Samuels but he's got two and a half more years to develop his skills," Pitino said. "It's not going to happen overnight with him."

In high school, Samuels was able to rely on his size to dominate in the paint and earn national player of the year honors as a senior at Newark's St. Benedict. That's not the case in college, where Samuels is often matched up against centers just as big and athletic – perhaps more so.

"He's no longer the biggest and strongest so now he must develop his skill set," said Pitino. "He's not a ready made [player] like Blake Griffin or John Wall. He's got to develop his skill set and he will do that."

Samuels played better against Oral Roberts, finishing with 17 points and 7 rebounds, while hitting 11 of 12 free throws.

"Samardo has got to enjoy the journey," Pitino said. "College is the greatest years of your life. He's going to find out [the NBA] is a job. He's got to start enjoying the journey and he's not. He's got to let go of all the self-inflicted pressures he's put on himself that affects him in a negative way."

Samuels has scored in double-figures in all nine of UofL's games this season. Samuels needs just 24 points to reach 600 for his career.

"He's got the ability to become a very good basketball player but he must enjoy the journey," Pitino said. "He's got to learn he's at a new level and it takes new skills to be successful at this level because it's tougher to score in college than it is in the pros."

The game starts at 4:00 p.m.

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