Louisville's press keying recent surge

BY foxsports • December 23, 2009

Rick Pitino grew tired of watching Louisville blow countless assignments while trying to run his vaunted ``22 press.''

Running the ``22'' properly requires good instincts and constant communication, two qualities the quiet and inexperienced Cardinals lack.

``I just don't think it's their thing,'' Pitino said.

So Pitino went back to basics, dusting off the playbook and rolling out the ``black'' and ``white'' press, different variations of a fullcourt man-to-man defense that takes thinking out of the equation.

Now, instead of figuring out where to go and when to trap, the Cardinals can just react. The spots on the floor where the Cardinals can trap is predetermined, no more leaving it up to the players to decide.

``There's less thinking involved,'' forward Stephan Van Treese said. ``Now you know where you're supposed to go.''

The Cardinals (7-3) certainly looked like they were in the right place at the right time during a 102-75 romp over Western Kentucky on Saturday.

Louisville forced a season-high 25 turnovers against the Hilltoppers, leading to easy baskets at the other end of the floor. The Cardinals dunked 11 times in the game, one off the school record.

It was the kind of confidence-building performance Pitino knows his team needed following stunning home losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina earlier this month.

Louisville will try to build on its breakout performance on Wednesday against Louisiana-Lafayette (4-6).

The Cardinals will have to do it without sophomore center Terrence Jennings, who was suspended one game for a violation of team rules.

Pitino isn't sure who will replace Jennings - who was slated to start alongside Samardo Samuels for the first time - but for once he won't lack for volunteers. The Cardinals are as healthy as they've been in a month, though point guard Peyton Siva is still slowed by a sprained right wrist that prevents him from shooting the ball.

Still, Pitino remains encouraged by what he saw against the Hilltoppers, as the Cardinals played with the kind of intensity that was seldom seen during the season's opening weeks.

And not a moment too soon. Pitino knows the losses to the 49ers and the Catamounts put a severe dent in Louisville's nonconference resume. With just three games remaining until the Cardinals head into Big East play, Louisville can't afford another slip-up.

``Any more losses in the nonconference make it much more difficult to make the (NCAA) tournament,'' Pitino said.

There are significant signs of progress. Van Treese said he knows the team's improving because the whistle isn't blowing in practice quite as much as it did a month ago.

Pitino can see the signs in postgame film sessions. The postgame tape is usually divided into three parts: the good, the bad and the ugly. A typical sessions has 40 percent good, 40 percent bad and 20 percent ugly. The session after the WKU game was 80 percent good, 15 percent bad and 5 percent ugly.

``I think they liked what they saw,'' Pitino said.

So did their coach. Yet he's hardly ready to say the Cardinals are out of their early December funk even after winning their last two games by an average of 32 points.

Having Jennings out means Samuels may have to play extended minutes. Having arguably his best player on the floor for a longer period of time isn't a bad thing considering the way Samuels has picked up his play lately.

Yet Pitino allows there's a chance some of Samuels' newfound aggressiveness could take a hit if he simply tries to stay out of foul trouble.

``When he does that, he plays terrible defense because he simply backs off,'' Pitino said.

It's an attitude Pitino hopes Samuels - and his team- has finally put away for good.

``I think they're all improving,'' Pitino said. ``We're trying to get everybody to draw charges, everybody to make blocks, everybody to pick it up.''

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