John Clay

John Clay: Pitino not in jolly mood as UK game approaches

Louisville coach Rick Pitino yells instructions to his team in their NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Northridge in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Louisville coach Rick Pitino yells instructions to his team in their NCAA college basketball game against Cal State Northridge in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Garry Jones) AP

LOUISVILLE — Required news item No. 1: Montrezl Harrell was wearing red-and-black, just not the red-and-black of a Louisville basketball uniform.

Louisville's star forward was on the bench Tuesday night serving a one-game suspension for his flagrant foul last Saturday against Western Kentucky.

Required news item No. 2: Wayne Blackshear scored a career-high 31 points as Louisville beat Cal State-Northridge 80-55 at the Yum Center.

Blackshear scored his team's first 13 points. With three minutes left in the first half, the junior matched his career high of 23. When he came out late in the second half, he even got a little smile from Coach Rick Pitino.

But enough about that.

"I'm going to let you ask about Kentucky because we're going to be real busy," said Pitino at his post-game press conference. "I'm feeling awful. I didn't think I could coach tonight; got through it. I'd rather not talk about this game."

We'd rather not either, to be honest. Let's talk about what everyone in college basketball is talking about. Saturday at the Yum Center, 2 p.m. tipoff, undefeated and No. 1-ranked Kentucky against undefeated and No. 4-ranked Louisville.

OK, ready, set, go.

"Last year we definitely lost the (NCAA Tournament) game against Kentucky because of offensive rebounding," said Pitino. "They just pounded us at the end of the game on the glass and we lost a very close game. We didn't do a great job tonight, but we were thrown all out of whack without Montrezl Harrell."

That's to be understood considering the 6-foot-8 Harrell averages 16.7 points per game, leads the Cards with 10 rebounds per game and is clearly among the best players in the country.

Pardon the interruption, Rick, please continue.

"I think they're a great basketball team," said Pitino of John Calipari's Cats. "They're one of the better defensive teams because of their length and size. I wanted to play Anas (Mahmoud) in the game and he didn't play until 12 minutes to go in the game; didn't play. He had zero offensive rebounds. He didn't play. We didn't see the ball in transition and Kentucky will annihilate you if you do that."

Question from the gallery: The biggest challenge Kentucky presents?

"I just told you," said Pitino. "Rebounding."

So how much of a factor will three-point shooting be Saturday?

"I don't think you beat Kentucky with three-point shooting," Pitino said. "Everybody thinks you beat Kentucky with three-point shooting; that's a factor, any game you want to shoot the three. They win because they control the backboard and they're an awesome defensive team. We stayed toe-to-toe with them last year and at the end of the game they just kicked our butts on the glass.

"That was very discouraging today, the way we rebounded the ball. Wayne didn't do it. Now Wayne played great, I knew he would. But Anas, Wayne, Chinanu (Onuaku), none of them rebounded the ball."

Wait, there's more.

"Our guards cost us in that game last year from rebounding," said Pitino, his voice rising. "They stood out there and let them rebound four versus three."

What about platoons? You can't talk about Kentucky without talking about platoons. It's practically a mandate. Pitino on platoons?

"They're just going to play 10 great players," said the coach. "But they're a great team. We have a lot of respect for them. I'm very impressed at how humble they are that they would dedicate themselves to being a team and not worry about minutes. They're just playing great basketball, and that's a tribute to their coaching staff, it's a tribute to their players. There's no ego there, they're just playing basketball.

"And they're one of the better teams I've witnessed in quite some time on the backboards as well as defensively. They're so long."

Shortly after that, Pitino made his exit, surely to get a little rest, watch a lot of film, take a brief break for Christmas and get geared up for Saturday.

Because it's going to be quite a Saturday.

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