Louisville wants to keep focus between lines

Louisville looks at tall order Saturday

herald-leader sports columnistDecember 31, 2009 

LOUISVILLE — Edgar Sosa doesn't have to wait for Saturday. He doesn't have to wait until he steps onto the floor of Rupp Arena. He already hears it. He's heard it all year long.

"A lot of UK fans been writing me on Facebook, real disrespectful, stuff that doesn't even have to do with basketball," said Louisville's senior guard after the Cardinals had disposed of South Florida 73-52 on Wednesday night in Freedom Hall. "I guess they just hate me down there in Lexington. And that's cool."

After all, a year ago, it was Sosa who hit the winning shot for Louisville's 74-71 triumph over then-coach Billy Gillispie's Cats.

But Billy G. isn't around anymore. This is a new season, and Saturday will bring in a new year, and Kentucky has a new coach, that Calipari fellow, and a practically new team, and a fan base that's been waiting and waiting.

"Over the last week, it's just been getting heavy," said Sosa. "Dudes calling me names, anything you can think of, I've heard it from a UK fan on my Facebook messages."

And that's just Sosa.

So what about the one with the most recognizable face, Rick Pitino, after his summer, and his less-than-friendly relationship with new UK coach John Calipari, what might he hear Saturday?

"Let's talk basketball, OK," said Pitino.

If we stick to basketball, says here Kentucky should win come Saturday. Says here it might not be close. The Cats have more talent than Louisville. They're bigger, longer, more athletic, and they have John Wall.

"They're not only the tallest team, they're the fastest team and one of the more athletic teams I've seen at Kentucky," said Pitino. "It's not going to be a surprise to us."

And Louisville?

"I think we're taking baby steps," said Pitino. "I don't think we are anywhere near where I'd like to see them be."

South Florida wasn't much of a test. The Bulls had ex-UK assistants Reggie Hanson and Jeremy Cox on the bench, but head coach Stan Heath didn't have Augustus Gilchrist (18.8 points, 7.4 rebounds) on the floor, thanks to a severe ankle sprain.

Still, the visitors managed to grab 17 offensive rebounds. They scored 34 points in the paint, 17 second-chance points.

"I'd like to see more consistency off the backboard," said Pitino. "I'd like to see consistency guarding off the bounce. Our bigs are standing too much, instead of releasing and going to the glass."

That helped USF make a nice run to cut the Louisville lead to one (32-31) at the end of the first half. And if the visitors had shot better from the foul line — a putrid 13-for-27 on the night from the stripe — Heath's depleted club might have made a game of it.

For Louisville, this isn't the Elite Eight team of a year ago. No Terrence Williams. No Earl Clark. No Andre McGee.

Instead, this is a team that is trying to create points off its defense, especially with its press. South Florida turned it over 21 times. Louisville had 16 steals.

"The press has been very good to us," said Pitino. "It'll be interesting to see if we can press Kentucky. I'm not sure we can. When I was in the pros, I pressed Isiah Thomas, and I believed it would work. John Wall may be the first player I've coached against who's unpressable, because if he gets by your first wave, you're in trouble."

More on Wall: "He's one of the better players I've seen in my lifetime because his attitude is so great."

Attitudes are often great when your team is unbeaten and you're riding high and your arch-rival is a little down and coming to your place.

"We're going to hear it all," said Sosa. "We're just going to have to take care of business between the lines."

That figures to be easier said than done.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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