Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Pitino worried about inside play against DePaul

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville coach Rick Pitino worries that DePaul's inside muscle could expose his team's biggest weakness. The ninth-ranked Cardinals have struggled more with getting good rebounding position than anything this season, Pitino said Tuesday.

That could be a problem Wednesday night against DePaul - the top rebounding team in Conference USA - as the Cardinals (12-1, 4-0 C-USA) try to extend an 11-game winning streak, their longest in 14 years.

"I'm not sure if we can keep them off the boards like we need to to win," Pitino said. "And that's something that we've got to pay really strict attention to, or we're going to be in for a long night."

Pitino said the Blue Demons (10-4, 2-1) will test the Cardinals with their rugged play inside and their stingy defense on the perimeter. DePaul is the conference's best team in defending the 3-point shot, he said.

Unhappy with his team's practice Monday - the same day that Louisville cracked the Top 10 for the first time in six years - Pitino got his players' attention with an early wakeup call Tuesday.

Pitino ordered his team back for a 6:30 a.m. workout Tuesday. The players responded with a strong practice, he said.

Freshman guard Taquan Dean said the punishment was deserved. He said the Cardinals didn't play well at the Monday practice. "Coming back at 6:30 just put us back on the track of focusing," Dean said.

DePaul has a solid frontcourt led by 6-foot-9, 250-pound center Sam Hoskins, who averages 14.6 points and 7 rebounds, and Andre Brown, a 6-9, 230-pound forward contributing nine points and 8.5 rebounds.

Pitino said the Blue Demons have assumed the personality of their first-year coach, Dave Leitao. The two have squared off before. Leitao played at Northeastern when Pitino coached at rival Boston University.

Pitino said Leitao was a scrappy player who wouldn't back down from anyone. "This team has taken on his attitude," Pitino said of DePaul.

Pitino said the Blue Demons got the Cardinals' attention by outrebounding Cincinnati in a 64-56 loss to the Bearcats.

The Cardinals will counter in the middle with Marvin Stone, who is coming off two of his best games of the season. Stone, a 6-10, 240-pound senior, is averaging 22.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his last two games against East Carolina and TCU.

Stone will face frequent double teams Wednesday night because of the Blue Demons' defensive scheme, Pitino said. To counter the traps, Stone will need to pass the ball well, then hit the boards hard, he said.

"You're going to find out something about Marvin Stone in this game," Pitino said, "because he's going against some very physical players who control the backboard against everybody they play."

The Blue Demons' defense has also been tough from the perimeter, holding opponents to 26.9 percent shooting from 3-point range. DePaul uses a lot of zone defense that fills in the gaps outside, Pitino said.

The Cardinals aren't shy about hoisting long shots, hitting 37.6 percent of their 3-point shots this season.

For Dean, the thought of facing a zone makes his eyes light up.

"It makes any shooter perk up," said Dean, second on the team with 23 baskets from 3-point range. "But basically you have to move the ball, get it into the big men, and we can break that zone easily."

Dean, a 6-3 freshman, struggled Saturday against TCU, hitting just 3-of-12 shots from the field and 2-of-9 from behind the 3-point line.

Dean said he wasn't discouraged by his cold shooting.

"I left the last shot that I shot behind," he said.

The Cardinals have clamped down on defense during their winning streak, holding their last nine opponents below 40 percent shooting.

Pitino said his team deserved the Top 10 ranking, but cautioned that the Cardinals are entering their most difficult stretch of the season. The rest of the conference season is a "meat grinder," he said, plus the Cardinals have non-conference games against Tennessee and Indiana.

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