Saturday, January 19, 2002

Pitino looks to trap Bearcats with press

UC's veterans set to face aggressive Louisville defense

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        University of Cincinnati coaches say they like to see different styles of play during the course of the season to better prepare for anything they might face in the NCAA Tournament.

        Well, get ready for a new look today.

        Louisville brings its full-court-pressing, fast-paced style to Shoemaker Center for a nationally televised showdown with the seventh-ranked Bearcats.

        The Cardinals typically prefer to extend their defense the length of the court, trapping, forcing turnovers, creating offense off their defense.

        How will that work against a UC team with three veteran perimeter players (Steve Logan, Leonard Stokes and Immanuel McElroy)?

        “It's nothing that we can't handle,” said UC assistant coach Dan Peters, who scouted Louisville.

        “I personally always liked to have teams press us. My feeling has always been, if you get out of the first trap, it's a fast-break situation. Now, if you're good at two-on-ones, three-on-twos and four-on-threes, it's the easiest way in the game to score because you're not going five-against-five.”

        As much as any opponent, Louisiana-Monroe tried to press the Bearcats this season. The Indians lost 102-66 in Las Vegas.

        “We're playing three guards and a power forward (Jamaal Davis) who makes great decisions,” UC coach Bob Huggins said. “So there's probably a reason people haven't pressed us.”

        The Bearcats average 12.5 turnovers a game. Louisville forces 19.1 a game.

        Now consider this: In the only previous Rick Pitino-Bob Huggins meeting (Kentucky 75, UC 71; Nov. 28, 1990), the Wildcats did not press the Bearcats, as expected. “That's the first time in my coaching life I've never pressed,” Pitino said afterward.

        “They probably didn't press us because we were hard to press,” Huggins said. “Lou Banks was terrific in the open court. It was a smart thing on Rick's part.”

        Could that happen again today?

        “I don't know that it matters,” Huggins said. “They're going to play the way they play; we're going to play the way we play. They play really hard. Their intensity level is probably going to be as high as any that we've seen this year.

        “They're a lot better (than last season). They're all a year older, and they've adapted very well to Rick's system. He's done a great job with taking some guys that were there that may not have been recruited to play like that, and they're playing great.”

        The Cardinals started the season 9-1, but have lost three of the last five games. But, at 11-4, they're only one victory away from matching last season's total.

        Louisville was hurt by the loss of freshman guard Carlos Hurt (8.4 ppg, 3.3 apg), who is scheduled to have back surgery today and miss the rest of the season.

        The backup point guards are walk-ons Bryant Northern and Alhaji Mohammed. The guy UC has to stop is junior guard Reece Gaines (20.1 ppg), one of the top scorers in the league.

        Pitino's team is coming off a 10-point loss Wednesday night at East Carolina. The Cardinals are in the midst of a tough stretch that is taking them on the road for seven of 10 games.

        UC, on the other hand, will be trying to try to set a Conference USA record today by winning its 17th in a row.

        “I've known from Day One, when they went to Oklahoma State and battled them to the wire, that they were going to be a terrific team, and they are,” Pitino said.

        “Everything they say about them is true. We've got quite a challenge ahead of us.”

        “There are so many different things that we have to do to beat them there. It's going to take a monumental effort on the part of our players. Playing hard's not enough; you've got to play extremely well.”


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