Pitino says Louisville needs Villanova-like effort to beat Kentucky

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 26, 2012 

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari left, greetedd Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino before #3 Kentucky defeated #4 Louisville 69-62 on Saturday December 31, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

In assessing his team's chances of beating Kentucky in the Final Four, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino referenced one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

"We understand we have to play the type of game that Villanova played against Georgetown," he said on a teleconference Monday. "We can't make a whole lot of mistakes to beat a Kentucky, and that's what we're hoping to do."

Villanova made 78.6 percent of its shots in beating heavily favored — and defending national champion — Georgetown 66-64 in the 1985 finals.

The Kentucky-Louisville national semifinal game Saturday in New Orleans also evoked thoughts of the NCAA Tournament's most famous near-upset: UK's 104-103 overtime loss to Duke (the so-called Christian Laettner game) in the 1992 East Regional finals.

"Duke was, in everybody's mind, an unbeatable team at the time," said Pitino, who acknowledged that he had not thought of the connection to Duke, 1992, until hearing a reporter's question. "Nobody gave us much of a shot (against Laettner, Bobby Hurley, etc, etc.).

"I'm sure that's pretty much the case now. That nobody's giving us much of a shot. But we believe we can win. Every team should believe they can win."

During his turn on the teleconference, UK Coach John Calipari downplayed the widely held notion that his team possesses more talent than the other three participants in this tradition-rich Final Four: Louisville, Kansas and Ohio State.

"You can throw talent out the window," he said of any advantage Kentucky might hold. "Everybody is talented now. Yes, we've got good players. So does everyone else."

Without mentioning Louisville by name, Calipari added, "You think they just have a system? That's why they're winning? Everyone has good players. It's going to be a war on that basketball court. Who wants it more? Who's going to compete? Who's going to execute? Who's going to be efficient on offense and defense?"

When asked about the role coaching plays in helping talent, Calipari noted Kentucky's high national ranking in various statistical categories: No. 1 in field-goal defense (37.5 percent) and blocks (8.6 per game), and top 10 in shooting (48.8 percent) and rebound margin (plus 7.1).

"So it's not just, 'They're talented,' " he said of the Cats. "They're a good team. They play together."

Calipari again voiced the hope that Kentucky does not feel obligated to win.

"Let's have more fun than any team here," he said of the objective. "Let's play our best, and we'll take the results from there."

Pitino, who guided a sixth team to a Final Four, noted that the NCAA Tournament format, known as survive-and-advance, makes talent less a factor than, say, the NBA's best-of-seven playoff series.

"One game, anything can happen," he said. "Talent is not always the reason you win or lose on the way to the Final Four. ...

"There have been games I lost with more talent and games we won with less talent."

A hot shooter, a lucky bounce or some unforeseen factor can make the critical difference, Pitino said. For instance, he noted how Florida was "much the superior team" against Louisville in the West Regional finals Saturday. But U of L rallied in the final eight minutes to win.

When a reporter pointed out that U of L will have a week to prepare for Kentucky, Pitino said, "Well, to prepare for Kentucky, I wish I had three weeks. But that being said, when you play them, it's not just a matter of preparing your defense. You have to prepare your offense because they're equally as good defensively."

Three-point threat?

Calipari suggested Louisville will shoot 20 to 25 three-pointers. "If they make them, you're going to have a long night," he said.

Coincidentally or not, Calipari again pointed out that a raised floor in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome might adversely affect shooting.

Pitino said he was not aware of the raised floor. He lamented that the NCAA does not give teams more than 90 minutes to shoot in public practices the day before national semifinals.

As for the threat U of L presents from beyond the arc, Pitino said, "We're not a big three-point-shooting team. ... That's not our forte, so to speak."

Louisville's average of making 5.9 three-pointers a game ranks No. 192 in the nation. That's barely more prolific than UK's average of 5.7 threes.

Matta not envious

Ohio State Coach Thad Matta said he was happy the Buckeyes don't have to face an archrival in the national semifinals. OSU plays Kansas.

"I know what a toll rivalry games take on coaches," he said. "So I don't envy Coach Pitino or Coach Calipari, in that regard."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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