LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino used an old friend to make a point in practice last week.
Pitino has used the treadmill teaching technique for his entire career. One minute, at a dead sprint, then right back into the run of practice. This past week, after his team gave up 19 offensive rebounds and 25 second-chance points in a narrow win over Pittsburgh, he focused its enhanced educational qualities on the subject of rebounding.
"If you missed a block out, treadmill. If you didn't crash the boards, treadmill," freshman Montrezl Harrell said. "There were guys running to the treadmill all over the place."
Luke Hancock said he believes he might've set a treadmill record. Wayne Blackshear admitted to making his share of trips. Harrell said the guards were occasional treadmill occupants. Two guys were not. All week, Harrell and Stephan Van Treese escaped the treadmill. They blocked out. They crashed the boards. And when Marquette visited U of L on Sunday, it was that pair that gave the Cards the spark in a 70-51 blowout, their most complete Big East effort to date before a "White-out" crowd of 21.418.
"They gave us a great run there," said Pitino, who donned his customary all-white suit for the white-out occasion. "They gave us a big lift when we needed it."
The Cards fell behind 9-1. At the first television timeout, four minutes into the game, they had zero field goals, five missed shots, three turnovers and only one point. Then Harrell came into the game and his first basket was a thundering dunk that seemed to shake loose the Cardinals' offensive cobwebs.
After three offensive rebounds and six second-chance points early, Van Treese battled on the defensive glass and Marquette didn't get another put-back the rest of the half.
Harrell's final stat line, six points, six rebounds and an assist in 16 minutes, doesn't come close to illuminating the effect he had on the game.
"When Montrezl came in, he's a very high percentage shooter, because he dunks 50 percent of them, so it got us going," Pitino said.
Van Treese finished with four points and three rebounds in 15 minutes after not playing at all against Georgetown or Pittsburgh. Van Treese, in fact, had played only 13 total minutes in U of L's past five games. Part of his being on the bench the past two games, Pitino said, was an effort to play Harrell at the center spot.
But Van Treese has had his moments this season, including a gutty effort against Duke. His play against Marquette was a positive. The Golden Eagles scored 20 points in the paint for the game, but only six in the 15 minutes played by Van Treese.
"Stephan knows how to play the game," Pitino said. "He's the best screener on the team. He's a very good offensive rebounder, okay defensively. If I didn't play him, it was just a bad move on my part, to be honest with you. I wanted to try Montrezl at the five, and I should have gone with (Van Treese)."
Van Treese has been around the block at U of L. In fact, he left the program briefly in the offseason, with Pitino's blessing, before coming back at the coach's invitation.
"I just know, playing basketball for Coach P for all this time, you don't want to get too high or too low," Van Treese said. "He preaches that, and I just know that whenever I get my opportunities, I have to make the most of them. He told me he didn't want me to play in the zone against Syracuse, and the past couple I didn't know whether I was going to play or not. But you have to keep being ready. He has the big picture on what he wants from this team, and you have to trust it."
After missing their first eight shots, U of L made 16 of 24 to finish the half, then shot 55 percent (11 of 20) in the second half. They wound up outrebounding Marquette 38-26 and had the Golden Eagles doubled up statistically in rebounding for much of the second half. Of U of L's 16 missed shots in the first half, the Cards rebounded 11 of them.
They closed out the first half on a 23-4 run, and Marquette never got closer than 17 points in the final 15 minutes. The Golden Eagles came into the game atop the Big East standings, and of their four losses, two came by two points (at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Cincinnati) and another by one point (against Butler), along with a 33-point loss to Florida.
The Cardinals forced 17 turnovers -- five below their average -- but turned those into 32 points. They also scored 18 second-chance points and 13 points off the fast break. Much of that was keyed by better defense, and the defense had a wrinkle in this game: 80 percent of it, according to Pitino, was man-to-man.
One other bonus -- the return of Wayne Blackshear from a sprained shoulder. He went 4 of 5 from the field and finished with nine points and four rebounds. Kevin Ware also returned from suspension and had a pair of steals in 14 minutes.
Peyton Siva had made just seven field goals in his previous four games combined. He made 6 of 9 shots Sunday for 14 points to go with seven assists. Russ Smith led the Cards with 18 points. Gorgui Dieng added eight points and eight rebounds.
"We were better in every phase of the game," Pitino said. "The way we handled the basketball, the loose-ball situations, the transition game, man, zone," Pitino said. "We played something like 80 percent man tonight and did a very good job with that, because they're a tough team to play man. Everybody else has played them zone."
U of L's man-to-man defense, which it used even more early in the season while some of its more inexperienced players learned the zone better, has been effective in some key stretches. Pitino said the Cards use it more when they shoot a better percentage and are able to get in their press and then drop back into man-to-man. Whatever the reason, Marquette coach Buzz Williams said it was effective.
"I think you have to beat Louisville twice," he said. "You have to beat them in the front court. Then you have to beat them in the backcourt. . . . I thought in the first half, we did a really good job of handling their pressure in the front court. I thought we settled too much once we got it below the free-throw line. In the second half, we didn't handle their frontcourt pressure very well. . . . It is the most man-to-man that we have seen in a while."
Many of U of L's players -- and Pitino himself -- took time to watch Indiana and Michigan Saturday night. They've seen Florida play, and many of the other top ten teams.
"You watch games and see that teams are starting to get it going," Blackshear said. "And we want to be one of those teams."
"I think there are about 15 very good teams and we are one of those," Pitino said. "It was the first time I saw Indiana play a complete game last night and I was very impressed. For me and my evaluation, I thought (Victor) Oladipo was one of the top three players I've seen this year in the country. I thought he and (Tyler) Zeller were sensational. I think Florida is very deserving of their ranking along with Indiana. To tell you the truth, they are all very good basketball games, as we are."
And while most U of L players are still hoping to avoid the treadmill, they'd like to think that they, too, are starting to make their run.
NOTES: U of L has won 12 of its past 20 games against AP nationally ranked opponents. . . . With an 8-0 run in the first half, the Cards stretched to 33 the number of 8-0 runs or better they've had in their first 22 games. . . . U of L won the rebounding battle for the first time in four games. . . . Marquette's 51 points were its fourth-lowest point total of the season. . . . With two steals, Siva moved into fifth place on U of L's all-time list with 211, passing Terrence Williams.