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Pitino's Strategy Stifles Patterson and Keeps Cats Off Balance

Date story published: Sunday, January 6, 2008

For an unprecedented event, Louisville's 89-75 victory over Kentucky on Saturday sure had a lot of familiar elements.

Never before in this intense in-state rivalry had U of L won by a double-digit margin in Lexington. All too often turnovers hurt UK, which committed 22 (one shy of a season high) against Louisville. Again in this season of winter re-runs, an opponent created offense by driving by the defender and passing to an open teammate. The backdoor play -- the stone in Gardner-Webb's slingshot in November -- made an unwanted reprise.

Most dramatically, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino showed again that if the opposition's big man must be contained, he's the man to call.

Louisville harassed UK freshman Patrick Patterson into the worst game of his beautifully budding career. A 66.9-percent shooter coming into the game, he made three of 14 shots and committed a season-high six turnovers before fouling out with six points (only his second game with fewer than 12).

With Patterson taken out, U of L had a big head start on holding Kentucky to 41.1-percent shooting (third worst accuracy of the season).

"We knew he was the one guy we had to keep from having a big game," U of L forward Juan Palacios said of Patterson. "They look for him every time down court. We felt like if we could make him work, we could wear him down. He got his touches, but I think he had to work so hard to get the ball, it was affecting his shot."

It certainly looked that way. After falling behind by 22 points with barely eight minutes left, Kentucky rallied. The Cats closed to within 64-51 at the 4:41 mark and got two point-blank chances to get closer. But Patterson rushed a turnaround post-up shot over the basket, then the rebound scramble led to a 12-footer in the middle of the lane. Patterson missed again.

Given a reprieve, Louisville shook off its free-throw misses to improve to 10-4.

"The whole time, we played really good defense with the exception of fouling (late in the game)," said Pitino, whose Kryptonite for big men worked most famously against Tim Duncan in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. "Excellent defense for about 35 minutes."

U of L's intent to stifle Patterson showed early. The Cards blocked three of his first-half shots.

UK Coach Billy Gillispie dismissed the suggestion that the blocks (a fourth came in the second half) could throw off a freshman, albeit a standout freshman, like Patterson.

"I don't think Pat worries about getting his shots blocked," Gillispie said.

However, teammate Ramel Bradley acknowledged the possibility of getting unsettled when more of your shots are blocked (four) than go in the basket (three).

"I guess you could say that, kind of," Bradley said. "I still think he was very mature. He tried to rebound from that. They did a good job collapsing on him."

Bradley noted how the removal of Patterson threw off Kentucky.

"It was very tough because we depend on him for that low-post presence," he said. "He's still learning. He'll be fine."

Bradley, who scored a career-high 27 points, kept Kentucky close. After falling behind by 11 early, the Cats rode Bradley. Back-to-back layups while being fouled were part of a one-man eight-point run that put UK ahead late in the half.

But turnovers killed the momentum. The Cats turned over the ball four straight times to end the first half, then did the same on the first two possessions of the second half, three of the first four and four of the first six.

In that span, Louisville scored 11 straight points to go ahead 39-31.

UK struggled with Louisville's pressing and trapping, the strategies that filled Rupp Arena with cheers when Pitino coached the Cats.

When asked how well Kentucky handled the pressure, Gillispie said, "OK when we got in the right spots, when we got leadership. Other times not very good. Just giveaway baskets and giveaway possessions. Not very good over the course of 40 minutes."

Bradley pleaded guilty and acknowledged confusion.

"I didn't get open like I should," he said. "When we initially took the ball out, we didn't have the right person taking the ball out each and every time. I think that had a lot to do with it."

With the lead, Louisville expected UK to intensify its defense. As a counter, the Cards went backdoor more than once for scores. The strategy helped Louisville build its lead to as much as 62-40.

"We let our man catch the ball too easily," Gillispie said. "We play our man after the catch way too much, and we're not physical enough."

Like the action, the post-game news conference had a familiar ring.

"It's another whipping, guys," Gillipsie said when he mounted the podium. "We've got to do better."