CRAWFORD | After EKU win, Louisville, Pitino turn attention to K - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | After EKU win, Louisville, Pitino turn attention to Kentucky

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Ray Spalding blocks a shot during Saturday's win over Eastern Kentucky. (AP photo) Ray Spalding blocks a shot during Saturday's win over Eastern Kentucky. (AP photo)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Rick Pitino has been talking about his team’s next four-game stretch all season.

Beginning with Wednesday night’s matchup against No. 6-ranked Kentucky in the KFC Yum! Center, the No. 11 Cardinals will begin a quartet of games against nationally-ranked teams, three of them in the Top 10.

The Cards beat Eastern Kentucky 87-56 on Saturday. They used a 26-0 run to take control, had a season-high 49 deflections, and blocked 14 shots.

That’s about all you need to know about that game. By the time it was over, the “Beat UK” chants were out, and the Cardinals’ players were all too happy to talk about their next opponent.

There was no, “We really haven’t looked at video yet,” when asked about the Wildcats.

“I’ve watched them a lot, actually,” sophomore Donovan Mitchell said. “Watching them on film, it’s scary how fast they get up and down. I think we’re ready for them. We’ll go out this week, and do what we’ve been doing, just focus. I’ve played against and with a bunch of them. . . . They have hundreds of possessions when they’re shooting within three seconds of getting the ball — and not just shooting, but scoring. They have great shooters and scorers, and we just have to lock in.”

The early theme seems to be this: transition defense. Mitchell mentioned it. Quentin Snider mentioned it. And most importantly, Rick Pitino mentioned it. And for the second time in two days, Pitino singled out De’Aaron Fox as a player he really likes, and Louisville players said he was a guy who made a positive impression on them when he made a recruiting visit to Louisville.

“Well, they're a great transition team,” Pitino said of Kentucky. “I don't know — I’m not in the NBA anymore, but they've got three guys, if I was still drafting, I'd put those guys, I think I'd take their point guard maybe number one or two in the draft. I recruited him. I love him as a person. I love him as a player. They've got three guys, and that's not their only three players, that are probably going to go top 10 in the draft. They're very well-coached. They play excellent defense. They shoot it at certain positions. It's going to be a really tough game.”

Louisville sophomore Ray Spalding knows about the rivalry. He grew up with it. He said he and Snider and Louisville native Dwayne Sutton have been talking its importance to the others on the team.

“I’ve watched them a little bit,” Spalding said. “They’re great athletes, they all play hard. Should be an exciting game, and we’ve talked about it amongst each other, we expect a fast-paced game. Q and Dwayne and I talk to the guys about it all the time.”

All of that, of course, was before Kentucky completed its instant-classic 103-100 victory over North Carolina in Las Vegas, in which freshman guard Malik Monk scored 47 points — sixth-most for a player in UK history, and most ever for a freshman.

The tempo was unlike any you’ll likely see in college basketball this season. Kentucky had 80 possessions and scored on 48 of them. For a comparison, Louisville had 76 possessions against Eastern Kentucky, and scored on 37 of them.

“They’re a great team and you have to score,” Mitchell said. “But we’ve got to find a way to defend them. And that’s just going to mean focusing on the game plan and giving great effort. The pace is going to be fast. Very fast.”

A year ago, Mitchell got his first taste of the rivalry. He said from talking to fans, “It’s life and death. I don’t think this is true, but it feels like (with fans), if we win this, everything else is . . . “ and he held out his hand, making a motion for smooth.

“I love games like this. I love rivalry games. Playing there last year was so much fun for me, even though we lost,” Mitchell said. “It’s what you sign up for. When I came here, I looked at who we play, and where we play. You want those games. You want to put yourself in those moments. These are the games where you’re so excited you don’t want to sleep the night before. Our defense has led into offense. In these games coming up, I think rebounding and boxing out, and guards coming down and rebounding, is going to be huge. There are a lot of big guys, Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, especially Thomas Bryant, who I know. We have to rebound. I’m excited for this.”

Pitino said he’s excited to learn more about his team in the upcoming stretch.

“We didn't look ahead,” Pitino said. “We didn't work on Kentucky or Virginia or Indiana or Notre Dame. The interesting thing about all four of those opponents is how incredibly different they are. They all play such a different style. To go from Kentucky to Virginia is like going from Miami to Minnesota. Then Indiana, of course, is the most different, and then Notre Dame's normal except you've got to go to their place. . . . The whole four games is going to be a tough stretch. We could go 4-0 or 0-4, who knows.”

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