CRAWFORD | Under-the-weather Pitino calls UK 'one of the better - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Under-the-weather Pitino calls UK 'one of the better teams I've witnessed'

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Most coaches feel sick after their team has played the University of Kentucky. Louisville coach Rick Pitino has gotten ill before playing the No. 1-ranked Wildcats.

The Cardinals' coach has been suffering from a virus for a couple of days and said he almost considered not coaching his team against Cal State Northridge in the KFC Yum! Center Tuesday night. After the game, he told the media that he'd answer any questions about the No. 4-ranked Cardinals Saturday matchup with the Wildcats, but wouldn't hold another press conference before the game “because we'll be very busy.”

Pitino called the Wildcats “one of the better teams I've witnessed in quite some time” and said he appreciated the sense of team among the UK players.

“They're a great team,” Pitino said. “We have a lot of respect for them. I'm very impressed with how humble they are, that they would dedicate themselves to being a team and not worrying about minutes. They're just playing great basketball. And that's a tribute to their coaching staff; it's a tribute to their players. There's no ego there — they're just playing basketball.”

Pitino left after the Cardinals' game Saturday at Western Kentucky to go to Florida on a recruiting trip, while the team rode back to Louisville by bus. During that drive, UK's 83-44 dismantling of UCLA was on television.

“We were watching it, but most of the guys were talking about the game we just played, some of the guys were sleeping,” center Mangok Mathiang said. “They're a tremendous basketball team. A lot of us have played Kentucky before, and we know that they always have great size, and have great athletes.”

U of L has played its last game and a half without Montrezl Harrell, who sat out Tuesday night's game after the ACC handed him a one-game suspension for throwing a punch against WKU. Harrell didn't watch the UK-UCLA game. He slept in the back of the bus on the way home, but says he'll get to work on the Wildcats beginning Christmas Eve.

“I go one game at a time, so I haven't looked at them,” Harrell said. “But I know they're great team, and I know they can dominate people on the boards, so that's where we're going to have to go to work.”

There are a great many theories on how to beat UK. One is that a team must get hot and make a bunch of three-pointers, or at least, a bunch more than the Wildcats manage to hit. Pitino said his pregame focus for UK will be elsewhere.

“I don't think you beat Kentucky with three-point shooting,” Pitino said. “Everyone thinks you beat Kentucky with three-point shooting. That is a factor. Any game you want to shoot the three. They win because they control the backboard and they are an awesome defensive team. We stayed toe-to-toe with them last year and at the end of the game they just kicked our butts on the glass.”

Pitino played a variety of big men against CSU-Northridge, as he has throughout the season, trying to get a feel for who could help him against the Wildcats. He came away discouraged with what he saw.

“Anas (Mahmoud), Wayne (Blackshear) and Chinanu (Onuaku) — none of them rebounded the ball,” Pitino said. “Our guards cost us the game last year in rebounding. They stood out there and let them rebound four against three. . . . We didn't see the ball in transition and Kentucky will annihilate you if you do that.”

On Tuesday, Pitino wanted his team to focus on shooting off of ball movement, and not relying on drives to the rim or shooting off the dribble. He wasn't happy with what he saw of his team's attempts to execute that until walk-on David Levitch entered the game and helped the Cards' passing game.

Rebounding, offensive execution, discipline in transition defense, it's a lot to try to fix before facing a No. 1 team. Just over three minutes into his press conference, Pitino using a expletive often used on the back side of Churchill Downs, said, “Guys, I feel horse---- . I'm sorry about this, but I've really been sick.”

And he ended the news conference. He'll be back on Saturday, with a team he hopes will be playing better.

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