Pitino makes Cards earn their identity

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville's embarrassing loss at Notre Dame last week did more than cost the Cardinals an ounce or two of pride and a spot in the polls.

Their practice gear went out the window too.

Coach Rick Pitino removed all practice shirts and shorts with the Louisville logo on them until the seventh-ranked Cardinals manage to win a game away from Freedom Hall.

"A generic shirt, that's what you've become," Pitino said he told his team. "You'll stay with those generic shirts until you win another road game."

A solid performance against surprising Providence (16-9, 8-5) on Wednesday won't get the Cardinals (19-5, 10-2 Big East) out of their ordinary gym clothes. Yet Pitino hopes his team starts at least looking like the one that seemed among the best in the country only three weeks ago.

Louisville took its anger out on DePaul in a 45-point win on Sunday, though all it did was keep the Cardinals in the midst of a crowded Big East race. Louisville is in a four-way tie with Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Marquette in the loss column atop the conference.

Still, there were signs against the Blue Demons that Pitino's message was getting through. Louisville's 99 points were its most ever against a Big East team and just the third time the Cardinals have topped 90 points this season.

The outburst was in part the result of the kind of unselfish play Pitino has been preaching about all season. Louisville had 25 assists on 39 field goals and knocked down 18 3-pointers.

"I think things are starting to click for us in terms of focus and in terms of young people coming around and understanding what it's all about," Pitino said. "I didn't see it. It's been a long time coming."

None of those points, however, came from senior forward Terrence Williams, who didn't take a shot in 15 minutes off the bench while dealing with a sprained wrist. Reggie Delk scored 10 points while starting in Williams' spot, then promptly turned his ankle in practice on Monday.

"I called him Billy Ray Cyrus," Pitino joked. "He's a one-hit wonder except he doesn't have a daughter doing as well either."

Williams should be back against the Friars. Pitino said he is "100 percent or close to it." Good thing. The Cardinals will likely need their unquestioned leader to be at his best against Providence's frenetic press.

Pitino called the Friars — who he led to the Final Four in 1987 — one of the Big East's sleepers. Providence has played like it at times, upsetting Syracuse earlier in the year and having little trouble with the conference's bottom feeders. The Friars score almost 80 points a night and have four players — Weyinmi Efejuku, Marshon Brooks, Sharaud Curry and Jonathan Kale — scoring at least 10 points a game.

"You know they have veterans, you know they can score," Pitino said. "They're very difficult to prepare for and very difficult to defend."

And that is where Preston Knowles comes in. The sophomore has become a fan favorite — and one of Pitino's too — because of his seemingly boundless energy off the bench. He's developed a reputation as a pest and a defensive sparkplug, though he's shown flashes of being pretty good on the other end of the floor too.

Knowles poured in 19 points in just 13 minutes against DePaul. He hasn't let it go to his head. He knows he's not always out there to fill it up. It's why he doesn't let whether his shot is falling or not bother him.

"You really can't get distracted off that," Knowles said. "You're going to have off nights offensively. I don't look at it like that. If I go 0-for-5 it doesn't really matter because that's not my role."

His role on Wednesday will be to try and help the Cardinals keep pace and distance themselves from the Notre Dame nightmare, even if a win doesn't mean they'll get their Louisville practice gear back.

"The Big East tournament is coming up and we're starting to play our best basketball now," he said. "Each day is just as important as the last. We just can't take a day off."