BOZICH: Pitino Envy Has Tilted To Calipari Dominance
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Over the last three-plus seasons, the University of Louisville basketball team has handled a lengthy list of the Who's Who in college basketball.
The Cardinals have beaten teams ranked Number One (Syracuse), Number Three (the Orange again), Number Four (Notre Dame) and Number Five (Connecticut, during the Huskies' 2011 national championship run).
Let the record show 15 U of L victories against ranked opponents -- with wins against teams coached by Tom Izzo, Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan also on the list.
One team is missing from the designer collection – Kentucky.
One coach is missing from the noteworthy list – John Calipari
Rick Pitino Envy has tilted to John Calipari Mastery.
The Cards have gone 0-4, and Louisville has only led Kentucky for a total of 19 seconds during the second half in the four victories Calipari has delivered since Jan. 2, 2010.
It happened three seasons ago in Rupp Arena. Terrence Jennings made a free throw with 9:51 to play, pushing the Cards to a 42-41 lead. In less time than it took me to type this paragraph, John Wall made a layup to make it UK, 43-42. Edgar Sosa made a turnover. Jerry Smith committed a foul. John Wall made a jump shot, a steal and two more free throws -- and everybody knew how this game was going to shake out.
That is dominance, matching Pitino's four-game UK winning streak against Denny Crum and U of L from 1990-93. How has this happened?
Some of the explanations are obvious: Kentucky has had considerably more talented players and more of them. Fourteen UK players have been selected in the last three NBA drafts, 10 in the first round.
A Louisville player has not been summoned to shake the hand of NBA commissioner David Stern since Terrence Williams and Earl Clark made the trip in the summer of 2009 -- before the Calipari recruiting tornado blew into Lexington.
No wonder the Cards have been beaten by an average of nearly 10 points and trailed by at least 13 in all four games.
Where to begin?
Defense works – Kentucky's defense. Ball pressure by Eric Bledsoe and John Wall. Long and active arms by Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. Shot-blocking from Anthony Davis. Grit from Michael Kidd-Gilchrest. It's been more defense than Louisville's offense has been able to overcome.
The Wildcats have held the Cardinals at least six points under their season scoring average in every game. The U of L point totals in the game – 62, 63, 62, 61 – have been remarkably consistent.
Finding good shots has been more difficult than find a good parking space within a block of the KFC Yum! Center. The Cards have shot less than 35 percent in three of the four losses, laboring to a collective field goal percentage of 36.0 percent. They have also barely averaged making five three-point field goals per game, shooting only 31.8 percent with the shot that has long been a Pitino trademark.
John Calipari's defensive game plans often focus on making life uncomfortable for one opposing player. Against Louisville, Calipari and his players have done their best work against Peyton Siva, the Cards' point guard.
Siva, like every player in the U of L locker room, has yet to defeat Kentucky. Calipari has tried to eliminate Siva's trips through the lane and bother him with taller defenders.
This has been the result: In four games against Kentucky Siva has averaged 6.3 points. He has missed 26 of 34 shots – 23.5 percent. He is 1 of 10 from the three-point line. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 11-to-10.
The plan has worked.
But, will it work again Saturday? Calipari does not have as many backcourt defenders as tall and relentless as the guys that Kentucky has utilized the last three seasons. Does he give the job to Ryan Harrow or Archie Goodwin?
Although the Wildcats have more projected first-round draft picks, the talent gap is considerably smaller. In fact, the experience factor favors the Cardinals.
But this time the assignment for Pitino and his players is to prove they can solve the issues that Calipari and Kentucky have presented the last four games.
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