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.”