After starting Big East play with three wins, the Cardinals have dropped two straight, including a heart-breaker at Pittsburgh last Saturday in overtime. Louisville led the Panthers most of the way, but let victory slip away because of several missed free throws late in the game.
The Cardinals hope to bounce back tonight at 7 p.m. against the Pirates, a team that started strong this season but has slipped to 1-4 in league play.
"I think they were a little down [after Pitt] which is the way I want them to be," Pitino said of his team. "You want them to be down because if they weren't they wouldn't care so much. And our guys are really down about it. They played almost a perfect game. We really executed in the half court about as well as we have this season. It was a very disappointing game."
Edgar Sosa, UofL's senior guard, placed much of the blame for the loss to Pittsburgh on his shoulders. Sosa made only 3 of 7 free throws in the game and missed several at crunch time with the game on the line.
"Edgar will bounce back," Pitino said. "I had a long talk with him before we got on the plane and told him a personal experience I had that still to this day I remember."
Louisville got a huge performance from Samardo Samuels against Pittsburgh. The sophomore center was virtually unstoppable, scoring a career-high 26 points, while hauling down six boards and recording two blocks. Samuels has averaged 23 points, hit all 14 free throws and shot 66 percent from field in Louisville's last two games.
"He's matured with his attitude and professionalism and he's coming on," Pitino said. "He's improving in a lot of different areas. He's passing the ball better, he's going off his right shoulder, he's blocking more shots and playing better defense."
With Samuels picking up the slack up front, Pitino will insert freshman forward Rakeem Buckles into the starting lineup against Seton Hall, replacing Jared Swopshire. Swopshire grabbed just four rebounds in 31 minutes against Pittsburgh – a team that out-rebounded the Cardinals 40-26.
"We just need a little more defense from the four spot," said Pitino said. "We're not getting enough defense, rebounding and physical play from that spot. [Buckles] is a foul waiting to happen. It's just a matter of keeping him in the game that's one of the reasons he hasn't started. But he has a live body and a lot of upside."
Seton Hall won their first eight games this season, but have struggled of late. The Pirates have dropped five of their last six games, including an 85-73 loss at Georgetown last week in which the Hoyas made 68 percent of their shots from the field.
The Pirates are explosive on offense, ranking fourth in the nation in scoring with 84.7 points per game. Jeremy Hazell is second in the Big East in scoring at 22.9 points and leads the league in three-pointers per game.
"This will be another difficult Big East road game," Pitino said. "They're a team of great runs. If you're up 10 or 12 you're not safe, if you're down 10 or 12 you can come back. They're the number one scoring team in the Big East and they get a lot of their missed shots back."
Despite the Cardinals recent losses, Pitino is pleased with how hard his team has played.
"We make mistakes but I appreciate the effort this team gives, they give great effort," Pitino said. "They're playing their tails off and they're trying real hard to gain a victory. They're not the best defensive team I've coached and that's because they're young."
GAME FACTS - Louisville (12-6, 3-2) vs. Seton Hall (10-6, 1-4)
Date: Thursday, Jan. 21
Time: 7:02 p.m. ET
Site: Prudential Center (18,500), Newark, N.J.
TV: ESPN will televise the game with Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and Doris Burke (analyst)
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) with Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Bob Valvano (analyst)
SIRIUS: SIRIUS Satellite Radio Ch. 90 (XM Ch. 203)
Next U of L Game: Jan. 24 vs. Cincinnati, noon ET (BIG EAST Network/WHAS-TV)