BOZICH | For Pitino, Louisville, another reminder Peyton Siva no - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | For Pitino, Louisville, another reminder Peyton Siva not walking through that door

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Louisville was outscored 23-12 down the stretch of a loss at Syracuse. (AP photo.) Louisville was outscored 23-12 down the stretch of a loss at Syracuse. (AP photo.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Peyton Siva made Rick Pitino proud to coach him. Still does. Russ Smith made Pitino laugh. Always has.

I could go on and bring Luke Hancock, Gorgui Dieng and Stephan Van Treese into the discussion, but the point is this:

Over the last three seasons at the University of Louisville, Pitino had a fistful of players that he could coach hard without worrying about nonsense or blowback.

They might not have always loved Pitino's unrelenting demands, but they were eager to please him and had no interest in embarrassing him.

That era is over. It has been all season.

Pitino confirmed that before and after the Cards lost at Syracuse, 69-59, Wednesday night in The Carrier Dome.

“I've suspended different guys 15 times this year,” Pitino told Bob Valvano during his post-game radio interview produced by Learfield Sports for the U of L radio network.

“We've had a difficult time with this team. We have freshmen that do not have the best attitudes. We have veterans that do not know how to treat them and bring them along.”

Not the Siva/Smith/Hancock DNA. Sure, Pitino clashed with Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware. Eventually, Behanan was dismissed by the university last season. But those guys were not the dominant voices in the locker room.

In both his pre- and post-game radio interview, Pitino said that on those 15 or so occasions, players have been required to report early for conditioning. They live with curfews and without visitation privileges. Pitino said he considered that punishment a suspension.

The coach was only warming up.

The word that he used to describe point guard Chris Jones was “knucklehead, a complete knucklehead when it comes to listening.”

In addition to not making the trip to Syracuse because Pitino gave Jones a suspension with more bite, Pitino also said that if Jones does not take care of the “issue” that led to his suspension “hell could freeze over,” before Jones wears the Louisville uniform again.

Was Pitino ready to talk about whether Louisville was now a three, four or five-seed for the NCAA Tournament?

Not yet.

He also said that he wished that Shaqquan Aaron had the work ethic of another freshman, Quentin Snider, the guy who took Jones' spot Wednesday and delivered his best performance of the season. He questioned the attitude of Chinanu Onuaku, his freshman center.

And, once again, Pitino criticized the way his team played defense. Louisville led 47-46 with about 10 minutes to play before the Cardinals were outscored, 23-12. The Orange shot 58 percent in the second half.

“The defense is what's stopping us from being a real good basketball team,” Pitino said. “The effort's there. The defensive ability to get stops is not there.”

Was this simply Pitino being Pitino?

Yes and no. Believe it or not, the coach stressed the positive more than the negative.

The coach praised Snider, who scored 13 points and did not turn the ball over while playing 38 minutes in his first college start. He liked the way his team shared the basketball. Effort? He said it was there.

Pitino has been famously cranky with his teams before. Wasn't it only three years ago when Pitino canceled Senior Night after the Cardinals lost to South Florida and then cleared the assistant coaches and support staff out of the locker room before he addressed his team following an early March loss to Syracuse in The Carrier Dome?

Yes, it was.

Then Louisville cranked out eight consecutive victories, won the Big East Tournament, surged into the Final Four and played Kentucky sneaker-to-sneaker for about 30 minutes in the national semifinals.

Two seasons ago the Cardinals lost one, two, three in a row – one to a Villanova team that lost 14 games. I believe that season ended with a celebration.

Friendly reminder: It's Feb. 18, not April 6.

With Pitino, you always wonder what is legitimate ire or his latest motivational move.

But this group appears to frustrate him more than the Louisville teams of the last three seasons.

That's not surprising. This team is not as deep. Or as experienced. Or as talented.

But, mostly it does not have the poised, persistent and mature approach that Siva, Smith, Hancock, Dieng and Van Treese delivered.

Pitino isn't used to coaching attitude and effort. He hasn't had to do that for several years. This season, Pitino hasn't had a choice.

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