Louisville's goal on defense is creating chaos

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 29, 2012 

NEW ORLEANS — Peyton Siva isn't surprised that Louisville's defense confounds and confuses opponents.

"I still don't understand our zone," the junior guard confessed on Wednesday. "It's a 2-3 zone. We match up, sometimes. We bump and run, sometimes. I don't know what we do sometimes."

Siva clearly isn't alone.

The Cardinals' defense hasn't just been creating chaos, it's been harnessing it and riding it to victory.

Specifically, to the Final Four where Louisville will face archrival Kentucky for a chance to play for a national championship.

Maybe teammate Chris Smith can explain the defense to Siva.

"The goal of our defense is to fluster people," he said rather succinctly.

It does.

Just ask Cincinnati, which could muster only 14 first-half points in the Big East Tournament championship game.

Or ask top-seeded Michigan State, which fell to the Cardinals last week. The Louisville defense held the Spartans to 18 first-half points, making them the sixth team this season to go for 20 or fewer in a half against U of L.

"Their guards got really flustered throughout the whole game and the pressure was non-stop because we kept throwing different guys at them while they were trying to bring up the ball," said Smith, who with his teammates held the Spartans to a season-low 44 points this season with their mixed bag of defenses. "That changed the game for us."

The Cardinals hope the same crazy chaos can change the game against Kentucky. In a 69-62 win over Louisville in December, UK coughed up the ball a season-high 21 times.

"Their press caused us to have a lot of turnovers," senior Darius Miller recalled from that game. It's not surprising he remembers since he turned the ball over a whopping eight times.

"We've been working on that and preparing for that," Miller said.

Kentucky's primary ball handlers, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb, combined to turn it over eight times in that game on Dec. 31.

"It's confusing to some teams at first because it's not a traditional 2-3 (zone)," Louisville senior guard Kyle Kuric said. "It's hard to really run an offense against it because we run certain specific things against their plays."

The goal isn't always to get a steal — although the Cardinals have their share of those and are seventh in the nation in that category, getting 8.9 a game — it's often to speed up teams into making bad decisions and bad passes and then taking bad shots.

Mostly, it creates chaos.

"If we can play our pressure defense non-stop, anybody in the country will cough up the ball," Smith said.

Kentucky is doing everything it can to make sure that doesn't happen. In the week leading up to the Final Four, the Cats have been working to keep the miscues to a minimum.

So far in this NCAA Tournament, UK has been taking good care of the ball, turning it over an average of 10.5 times a game, better than its season average of 11.3. Louisville forces 15.6 turnovers a game,

"They are really good on defense," Teague said of the Cards. "They pressure the ball a lot and try to force a lot of turnovers.

"You just have to try and stay calm and try to pass through their press. We know we have to limit our turnovers and we have to be ready for the press."

Communication has been key for the Cardinals, who are third in the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding teams to 38 percent shooting.

"Our talking on defense has been tremendous the last eight games," Smith said. "If you can talk on defense and know where your man is at all times and actually can see where the ball is, you're a great defense."

It's no coincidence that those last eight games Smith mentioned were all victories.

The Louisville players believe their defense is going to be the difference Saturday.

But more importantly, they believe in each other.

"We just help out a lot," Kuric continued. "If somebody penetrates, then somebody else steps up. If we all get beat then Gorgui (Dieng) will block the shot."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service