LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino has a different problem than he thought he would have heading into tonight's 7 p.m. matchup with Southern Mississippi in the KFC Yum! Center.
He figured he might have to bring his players back down to earth after beating a North Carolina team depleted by NCAA investigation. He was worried about the possibility of his team getting too full of itself, and knew Southern Miss had an experienced team returning.
He was half right. Southern Miss does present U of L some problems. But the Cardinals don't need to be brought back down to earth. North Carolina took care of that last Sunday in a 93-84 upset that snapped the program's 21-game winning streak.
Thanksgiving week has been a tense time around the U of L basketball complex.
"When I looked at the schedule and realized UNC was without (P.J.) Hairston and Leslie (McDonald), I thought the team that would bring us back to reality could be Southern Miss," Pitino said. "They have a lot of people returning, all juniors and seniors. They have Wichita State-type toughness. They're coming off 27 wins. If there was a game where I thought we could pay with our lack of humility, so to speak, I looked at that game as the game.
"To say I'm on edge would be the greatest understatement of the year. I am on edge. This is a really good basketball team. They remind me of Wichita State, the way they play defensively. If you take what we did the last two years and had a blueprint for our defense, that's this team. I guess when he (Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall) was at Morehead State, he likes what we do with our 2-2-1 press and tandem zone. They're very good at it. Much better than the way we play zone right now. Their press is a little different than ours. We go for more steals, they're in it to slow you down."
LoTyndall does, in fact, have some experience beating U of L. He was the Morehead State coach who bounced the Cardinals, with the help of Kenneth Faried, from the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Since that time, U of L has been to back-to-back Final Fours. But none of that matters now, and that's a message Pitino has been trying to drive home in the wake of Sunday's loss to North Carolina.
Southern Miss comes into the game 6-0, but is just 2-44 all-time against ranked opponents on the road. In this season's six victories, the Eagles have come from at least nine points down four times. They start three seniors, a redshirt junior and a redshirt freshman, but don't have great size.
The last time the programs met, U of L's 2005 Final Four team beat Southern Miss 107-62 in Hattiesburg, Miss.
All week, Pitino has focused primarily on fixing his team's defense. U of L is allowing opponents to shoot 41 percent from the field this season, and 35.2 percent from three-point range, both far higher than totals the Cardinals have allowed the past two seasons.
"We gave up 17 layups (against North Carolina)," Pitino said. "I haven't had a team give up 17 layups in five games. They were 17 out of 21 on the break. And I think we gave up 15 uncontested layups. We missed 13 layups in the game and only three were challenged -- the one Montrezl (Harrell) got blocked, the one Kevin (Ware) should have dunked and one of Chane's. The others were right at the rim, Luke (Hancock) that he always makes, Russ (Smith), Chris (Jones)."
Pitino also said the team mysteriously abandoned its scouting report in allowing North Carolina runouts, with guards going to the offensive glass instead of getting back in transition.