Last year the Connecticut Huskies won the Big East Tournament and rode that wave of momentum all the way to a National Championship. This year another Big East power, the Louisville Cardinals, are looking to do the same thing. Thanks to a great coaching job by Rick Pitino and a nasty defensive mindset, the Cards have gotten hot at the right time and they are two wins from cutting the nets down. Unfortunately for Louisville, they will play their toughest test of the season on Saturday night in a rematch with the Kentucky Wildcats. Looking at the rosters and the talent on both sides of the court it’s a mismatch. Louisville doesn’t look like they belong, but the Cards have been playing with a chip on their shoulder and have already surprised a number of people.
Louisville Associate Head Coach Richard Pitino joined WQAM in Miami with Curtis Stevenson to talk about the comeback against Florida, how this team compares with some of the other teams his father has coached in the past, on the team’s defensive effort this season, what the team can take from an earlier meeting against Kentucky, what he makes of Kentucky star Anthony Davis, and what it means to the state of Kentucky to have Louisville playing the Wildcats in the Final Four.
On the team’s comeback against Florida:
“Yeah it really was amazing. We certainly went on a run, I think it was an 18-3 run, it was pretty simple, we started playing man-to-man and switching everything, trying to take away the three point shot. They didn’t make a three in the second half and we really chipped away at it. Chane Behanan and Russ Smith made big plays and for us to do that with losing our best player fouling out, Peyton Siva, really was remarkable because they controlled the game really for 32 minutes. For us to find a way to win that game was really unbelievable.”
How this year’s Louisville squad compares to some other teams Rick Pitino has coached in the past:
“It’s pretty similar to his 1987 Providence team. You hate to say it because it’s pretty cliché but nobody expected us to do this and I don’t think anyone picked us. We really, really overachieved. If you look at our roster, everybody always says we don’t have the talent to win games and this and that but you look back and we won 30 games, we won a Big East Tournament Championship, we made a great run to the Final Four, and hopefully were not done yet. These guys have a lot of heart, they just keep fighting through it, keep overachieving, and they’ve been a lot of fun to coach.”
On the team’s defense this year:
“We’ve had a great team this year in the sense of they have really focused on preparing and scouting the opponent. They have locked into that all year and I think that has really contributed to us playing good defense. You look at who we are playing Saturday and going into Michigan State, us and Michigan State were tied for two and Kentucky was one, so something is going to have to give here. We’re going to have to turn it up defensively and certainly we’re going to have to score some points.”
What he can learn about the first meeting against Kentucky:
“We will watch it and we’ve watched a little bit of it already. It’s comforting in a sense because if you look back to that game we really didn’t play well and we’ve become a much better team. They have certainly improved as well but we were not half the team we were back then. Peyton Siva was not the type of player he is now, Chane Behanan was in foul trouble the whole game so we have really improved but they have definitely improved as well. I mean their record speaks for themselves and the talent they have and their ability to get the most out of what they have so it’s going to be a war, they’re a great, great team, and we have nothing but respect for their talent and their coaching staff so it will be a lot of fun.”
On Anthony Davis:
“He’s one of the best shot blockers we will ever see so when you have a guy like that who changes the games it’s going to alter your game plan. He changes it and they have a lot of great players. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is probably the most underrated player out there. The fact that people don’t realize he is probably a top five player in the draft and he plays so hard and competes so hard. Then you have a guy like Darius Miller who comes off the bench who would probably be about 60 of the teams in the tournament’s best player so they have great, great players, they play extremely hard, and they’ve bought into winning and playing great defense.”
On the fans in Kentucky being so excited about this Final Four matchup:
“It’s two very rabid fan bases. I have been on both sides of it and experienced both sides of it. They both love their basketball and there’s no pro sports in here so that’s probably why it’s a bit more unique than Carolina, New York, and places like that. It’s big for Louisville and it’s big for Kentucky and I didn’t realize that until after we won that they had never played in the Final Four before so I think it will start heating up here pretty soon. It’s been relatively quiet but I’m sure starting tomorrow here people will start getting revved up.”