Cardinals trying to stay focused despite slide

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

Louisville is losing and the Cardinals' faithful are upset. Senior guard Edgar Sosa doesn't blame them.

He hears their frustration in the hallways heading to class. He reads about it on his Facebook page. He can't avoid it whenever he checks his Twitter account.

Losing to the Charlotte and Western Carolina wasn't exactly part of the plan when the season began.

Yet Sosa isn't exactly ready to panic. He's been around long enough to know what happens to the Cardinals in December has little to do with what happens in March.

``Right now everybody is considering us to be an NIT team and we know we're better than that,'' Sosa said. ``These two losses really hurt us ... (but) we have time to make it up.''

Shaking off early season disappointments has become something of an art for the Cardinals (5-3), who have lost three of four heading into Wednesday's game against Oral Roberts (6-5).

Three years ago Louisville dropped four games before Christmas but made it to the second round of the NCAAs. Two years ago they lost three times before New Year's Eve. Last year even a preseason top 5 ranking didn't stop the Cardinals from falling to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV by New Year's Day.

That doesn't mean coach Rick Pitino is happy with the way the Cardinals were shredded against Charlotte and Western Carolina. He also knows it's too soon to abandon ship.

``I've been in situation every year I've been here,'' Pitino said.

Perhaps, but that's done little to quell grumblings from a fan base still unsettled by the Pitino's rocky summer in which he admitted to having an affair six years ago with a woman later accused of trying to extort him for millions. Pitino has steadfastly refused to call the ongoing situation a distraction and his players are quick to rise to his defense.

``When people talk bad about coach, we feel like they're talking bad about us because when we're out there on that floor, that's what we're representing,'' Sosa said. ``We know what type of person he is and we know how much he loves the game and loves us.''

But Louisville doesn't have the stars it has had in the past and the 57-year-old Pitino knows climbing out of this year's hole will be more difficult. The Cardinals could rely on Terrence Williams and Earl Clark to pull Louisville out of its funk last year. Both players are now in the NBA and the Cardinals are lacking volunteers to step in and fill the void.

``We have no erasers on this team,'' Pitino said. ``Last year if we made a mistake defensively, T-Will or Earl or Andre (McGee) for that matter would step in and erase that mistake.''

That isn't happening this year. Too often the Cardinals are prone to breakdowns because of a decided lack of communication. Pitino pointed to a sequence during last Saturday's 91-83 loss to the Catamounts as a symbol of his team's biggest problem.

The Catamounts were on the fast break and Louisville forward Jared Swopshire - seeing teammate Samardo Samuels was out of position - dropped back and covered Samuels' man. One problem: Samuels never made the adjustment to pick up Swopshire's man instead. The result was a wide-open 3-pointer for Western Carolina's Jake Robinson, one of 10 the Catamounts drilled to win going away.

The stunning decisiveness of the losses has been a sore spot for fans who expected more out of a team that was the top overall seed in last year's NCAA tournament and won both the Big East regular season and tournament championships.

Watching archrival Kentucky's renaissance under new coach John Calipari isn't helping matters. While the Cardinals have stumbled, the Wildcats have soared to No. 3 in the country.

All of a sudden, Louisville's recent dominance in the series seems like a long time ago.

``I'm pretty sure they were going through it when we were making our run last year and they were losing,'' Sosa said. ``It's all part of the game.''

Maybe, but the Cardinals know time is running out. They had viewed their eight-game December homestand as a chance to fatten their record while preparing for their Jan. 2 showdown with the Wildcats. Two games into it they're searching for answers.

While injuries to guards Peyton Siva, Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith haven't helped matters, Pitino freely admits his team is behind schedule, particularly on defense.

Yet on a team filled with eight freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Pitino knows improvement can come quickly.

``I'm disappointed but not discouraged,'' Pitino said. ``We've just got to be much more of a precise, fundamental basketball team. If we get that, in the month of February we could be a very good basketball team.''

Sosa hopes he doesn't have to wait that long. Perhaps it's a sign of maturity, however, that the player who most often needed a hug when the Cardinals struggled earlier in his career is now the guy doing the hugging.

``It's hard,'' Sosa said. ``We have a lot of guys on this team that are tough on themselves and they don't like losing. I just have to be that guy to say that 'It's alright.' We just have to win the rest of the games in December and win some big games in the Big East.''

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