CRAWFORD | Pitino revives matchup zone, Louisville confuses Wich - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Pitino revives matchup zone, Louisville confuses Wichita State in 62-52 win

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After the University of Louisville basketball players hit the sack at about 1:30 on Thanksgiving morning, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino sat up thinking about how his team would bounce back from an overtime game against Old Dominion to face a Wichita State team that had thrashed LSU earlier on Wednesday and gotten about eight hours more rest than the Cardinals.

When faced with tough challenges, a lot of us turn to old friends. Pitino is no different. He turned to his assistants, well after 2 a.m., and told them he wanted to get the team up in the morning and teach it Louisville's well-known match-up zone.

Wichita State didn't see it coming. The Shockers struggled offensively all night, shot just 31.6 percent, and though the Cardinals fought through fatigue, they were never seriously threatened down the stretch in a 62-52 win that was as impressive a performance as they've had all season.

Louisville (5-0) remained unbeaten with the win, and advances to the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship game against Baylor at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the Bahamas.

Pitino praised his team's ability to adjust on the fly. It had played man-to-man defense almost exclusively this season as Pitino had stressed pressure defense and speeding up the tempo. The only zone the Cardinals had played was a standard 2-3 zone. But the matchup, which utilizes elements of zone and man-to-man within the same possession, is far more complicated.

"(Wichita State) looked like a February machine (against LSU)," Pitino told Bob Valvano on his Louisville Radio Network 1-Tom-Drexler Coaches' Show. "I decided with the staff, 'Look, we've got about 55 minutes to teach the matchup zone. In their games this year they're about 38 percent against zone, and they're like 49 percent against man. We've got 55 minutes to teach it. We're going to make mistakes. But I think we can confuse them, because we haven't played any zone this year. And we actually played the zone better than we played it in the Final Four game when we played them (in 2013)."

The Cardinals used a 13-2 run late in the first half to lead 33-17 at halftime. Wichita made some second-half adjustments and hit a few second-half threes, but still could get no closer than 6 points.

Louisville was in foul trouble almost immediately. Mangok Mathiang picked up two fouls in the opening minute, and Jaylen Johnson played only 14 minutes in the game because of fouls. Deng Adel fouled out.

But the Cards got outstanding play in the middle from sophomore Anas Mahmoud, who finished with five points, five rebounds and six blocks. And Ray Spalding had his second straight good game, finishing with nine rebounds to go with four points and a pair of blocks.

Quentin Snider and Donovan Mitchell led the Cards with 14 points each, and V.J. King had 10 off the bench.

But Pitino was most pleased with the defense. Even though he was confused, Pitino said King, the freshman, was a quick study.

"I stopped him at one point when we were explaining it and I said, 'V.J., you OK? You look spaced out.' He told me, 'Zone press, drop back, turn it into man, go back to zone?' I said, 'You're doing a good job son, just score the basketball.'"

Wichita State came into the game among the leaders in the nation in rebounding margin, but Louisville finished with a 46-33 edge on the boards, and Mitchell's eight rebounds and Snider's four were a big difference.

"We showed them, for a second time, video of Terry Rozier blocking out and rebounding for us, and I said, 'Look men, we need some Terry Roziers on this team, some dogs who are willing to rebound the ball,'" Pitino said. "And you certainly saw it with Donovan Mitchell going in and rebounding over the bigs."

The Cards now will face an athletic and talented Baylor team that had no problem in beating Michigan State 73-58 after trailing by three at the half. Baylor employs a 1-3-1 defense and has a number of offensive weapons.

But Pitino says his team has been locked in on winning the championship of this event.

"We wanted to get to the finals very badly, and we weren't going to use lack of rest as an excuse, against a team that was rested for 26 hours," he told Valvano on his postgame radio program. "We were pressing our 22 press, a contain press, back to a contain press, we didn't want to trap, we just wanted them to take 6-7 seconds in the backcourt. We confused them in the first half, but in the second they put some heat on us. But we did a good job numerous times trapping baseline, drawing the charge. We were in very serious foul trouble, and we won it without some regulars. We beat a very good basketball team today."

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