CRAWFORD | Pitino calls for smarter play, and 7 straight wins - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Pitino calls for smarter play -- and seven straight wins

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Talent wins games. Teamwork and intelligence win championships.

That's a great lead. I wish I'd written it. Unfortunately, I didn't. John Wooden did. But if you're going to steal, you might as well steal from the best.

This week in practice, University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino also has been borrowing from the Wooden playbook.

Intelligence has been the theme of the week for the Cardinals in the wake of last Saturday's five overtime marathon loss at Notre Dame.

The Cardinals took an NCAA-mandated two days off, then returned to work for the real marathon -- watching the film to catalog the list of mental errors the team made down the stretch against the Fighting Irish. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, some of them were reruns.

"In three of our five losses we beat ourselves," Pitino told reporters Wednesday night before his weekly radio show. "For a veteran team, that's very disturbing. We're playing with great heart but very little head."

". . . There's two things that have stopped us from having a great season. One has been our foul shooting, two has been our intelligence or lack of. I think the Notre Dame game will make us a lot smarter in a lot of different areas, and I think our players realize that."

So what do you do to make your team smarter in a short time? They don't exactly make "Basketball Einstein" tapes to play for your players while they sleep. And of course, Russ Smith never sleeps, anyway.

Pitino said that in addition to the shock value and sheer unpleasantness of the Notre Dame experience, some individual self-evaluation on the part of each player is necessary.

"Going into conference play we have not played as well as a basketball team in terms of our individual performances," Pitino said.

Of the loss at Notre Dame, he said nobody played well, not even Chane Behanan, who scored a career-high 30 points.

"Russ had a night that he wants to forget, but he's had a lot of great night that have helped the team to some high heights," Pitino said. "And you'd rather have (a bad night) happen in February, if you learn from it, than have it in March.

"I think Russ had a bad night. Wayne (Blackshear) had a bad night. I think Peyton (Siva) had a bad night, with a lot of mental errors that were contagious and led to other errors."

But Pitino has proved adept at pivoting his team off low points into a better direction throughout his career. He often uses the imagery of a deflated balloon now needing to inflate. When it comes to inflating his teams, he has in recent years employed mini-goals: One year he broke the season into segments, another he said the team had to win 8 out of 10 to make the tournament.

This season, there's a new twist. The only thing he says his team can do to make up for the Notre Dame loss is "win seven in a row."

He said he's challenged the Cards to win out, no easy task given that three of the games are on the road, including a visit to Syracuse.

"Seven straight wins," Pitino said. "Anything less, I'll be very disappointed. That's my goal. I think we're going to have to play smart. We're playing hard enough, our effort is good enough to do it, we're not playing smart enough to do it."

The quest begins Thursday night against St. John's in the KFC Yum! Center.

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