Pitino: Undersized Cardinals need to get tougher

Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes it takes a certain kind of
player to be a great rebounder.

There’s a tenacity involved, a love of contact that can’t really
be taught no matter how many drills you put a player through.

Assistant coach Mark Lieberman likens rebounding to two cars
playing demolition derby. His advice is don’t just ding a fender.
Go for it. Get in there and mix it up.

”On defense you’ve got to hit people,” Pitino said. ”We don’t
have frontcourt people that enjoy contact with the exception of
Stephan Van Treese.”

And that’s not nearly enough for the 18th-ranked Cardinals to
contend in the Big East.

Louisville (13-3, 2-1) was mauled on the glass by No. 7
Villanova in an 88-74 loss on Wednesday. The Wildcats used a 41-25
advantage on the boards to pull away in the second half.

Things won’t get any easier on Saturday against surging
Marquette (12-5, 3-1). The Golden Eagles are just as athletic as
the Wildcats and will have a significant height advantage at all
five positions.

While Pitino remains happy with his team’s effort level, with
power forwards Jared Swopshire and Rakeem Buckles out with injuries
and centers Terrence Jennings, George Goode and Gorgui Dieng
struggling to make an impact on a nightly basis, he’s turning to
the guards for help.

Pitino thinks 5-foot-11 Peyton Siva should be getting at least
six rebounds a game because the man he’s guarding typically races
back down the floor after a shot goes up to play defense.

It’s a role Siva will warily try to embrace. He’s averaging 2.9
boards a game, pretty decent for someone his size but not enough to
compensate for the Cardinals’ lack of inside presence.

”There are times I try to get in there, but I feel it’s going
to take a lot more effort on my part and help our bigs out and
rebound,” Siva said.

It’s a task feisty 6-foot-1 senior captain Preston Knowles
appears to relish. Never one to shy away from a fight, Knowles is
averaging 4.1 rebounds a game and has become adept at knowing where
to go when the ball is released. He picked up a pair of critical
offensive boards in a victory over South Florida last weekend.

Yet Knowles was frustrated after the loss at Villanova, a game
the Cardinals lost despite making 12 3-pointers and forcing the
Wildcats into 18 turnovers.

Pitino understands Knowles’ anger, but director of basketball
operations Ralph Willard has encouraged Knowles to lead in a more
positive manner.

It’s a tactic Pitino has stuck with this season. He has been
slow to criticize the Cardinals when things have gone wrong.
Louisville has been outrebounded by at least 11 in each of its
three losses. Yet there has been very little foot stomping from the
coach. Maybe it’s because he knows the hand he’s been dealt.

”They’re not the most talented group I’ve coached,” he said.
”They are what they are. They have a great attitude, a great group
of guys. They’re good solid ballplayers who give you everything
they have, there’s just no great rebounders on this team.”

Whatever size the Cardinals have will take a slight hit on
Saturday. Sophomore forward Mike Marra will miss the game with an
ankle injury, further shortening Louisville’s bench.

”I’m not going to complain on what I don’t have, I’m just going
to concentrate on what I do have,” he said.

What the Cardinals have, at this point, is a pretty solid start
in the Big East. Pitino has divided the lengthy 18-game conference
schedule into six three-game segments. His hope is the Cardinals go
2-1 in each segment while potentially sweeping all three at some
point.

It won’t be easy. Louisville faces two games against Connecticut
and West Virginia as well as road test at Georgetown and Notre
Dame.

”Even if we fall down, we can easily pick ourselves up,”
Pitino said. ”We’re miserable for 24 hours and we’re frustrated
(after a loss) but there’s always another game to make up for it.
… We are going to have some down times and we’re going to have
some up times.”