CRAWFORD | Before and after: Cards age their coach, but hold off Pitt 85-80
Sometimes, coaching isn't easy. Rick Pitino was the embodiment of that on Wednesday, after his team lost most of a 26-point lead before hanging on to beat Pitt 85-80.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — You think this job is easy? You think it’s all Saratoga summers and Italian dinners?
Look at Rick Pitino. He started Wednesday’s home game against Pittsburgh looking like Elvis in his prime. By the end, he was shooting out televisions and playing two shows a day in Vegas. He looked like one of the guys in the Churchill Downs concourse on a hot afternoon needing a longshot to score in the tenth to break even.
His team had led by 26. It had dismantled a Pittsburgh team that was among the most efficient offensive teams in the nation. It was cruising. Its defense was rattling the Panthers. Then they made some defensive changes, went to a trapping, 1-3-1 zone defense, and Jamel Artis started going Steph Curry on the Cardinals, finishing with 43 points, the most ever for a visiting player in the KFC Yum! Center and second-most in school history.
The Cardinals made only three field goals in the final six minutes. Pitino, wearing his usual custom suit to begin the game, jettisoned his tie early in the second half. By the midway point he was out of his coat. A few minutes later, the second button on his shirt was undone.
He was able to laugh about it after his team pulled out an 85-80 victory, but only barely.
“I look like Tony Montana,” Pitino said. “I’m sweating all over, my underwear’s soaked, everything.”
If he were a horse, we’d say he’d washed out. But don’t get the notion that he’s washed up. He’s taken a very athletic but limited team and has them at 14-3 playing against one of the top schedules in the nation, with wins already over Kentucky, Indiana and Purdue, with Duke headed into the KFC Yum! Center this weekend.
It’s very difficult coaching this group of guys, but it’s one of the more enjoyable things,” Pitino said. “Just very difficult, because they’re a bunch of really good athletes who care, and they’re not really good basketball players yet. Just the fundamentals of basketball they have to get. A simple ball-fake. . . . Little things that we’ve got to get better at. It’s about eight or 10 little things that once we do we’ll get better dramatically.”
“If you look at our statistics and take the name ‘Louisville’ off, and you say, ‘What’s this team’s record?’ If you look at the foul line, if you look at the shooting percentages and say what is this team? You’d say they’re winning six or seven games, max,” Pitino added. “We’re 14-3, 2-2 (in the ACC) and both with a very, very tough schedule, a top five schedule in the nation.”
The Cardinals nearly coughed up a 20-plus point lead in the second half for a second time this season. Pitino said it was because his players didn’t adjust well to Pittsburgh’s zone and became tentative instead of attacking it.
Then they faltered from the free throw line at the end, missing five out of six in one late stretch — including a pair of airballs from Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding — before stabilizing to finish it off, even as much of the lower bowl at the KFC Yum! Center had inexplicably vacated their seats.
Pitino addressed the late free-throw miscues after the game.
“Like I told our guys, you shoot an airball, if I was you — and I can’t bring you to the gym anymore because of the 20 hours — I would put a cot in a gym before I’d shoot an airball,” Pitino said. “. So you guys who shot an airball, it wasn’t breezy. You need to get in the gym. You need to shoot free throws, because a free-throw’s very easy. I’m going to sleep in the office tonight. I hope they’re in the gym as well.”
And the whole time, Pitino is sweating it out. There’s a lot of that going around in the ACC. This conference season isn’t likely to be pretty for anybody.
“It’s like this every night,” Stallings said. “You can’t play average in this league and win. . . . There’s 18 of them (conference games) and you can’t dwell on a win, you can’t dwell on a loss. I know that sounds like coach-speak. Players are generally a little better at that than coaches are. We play Miami on Saturday at noon. We have no time. We have to try and figure out why we didn’t play better in the first half and try to be better on Saturday.”
Stallings, obviously, is feeling the grind in Pittsburgh after moving there from Vanderbilt. Louisville won its ninth straight game against Pittsburgh — remarkable, really, given the success of that program and its success at home — yet the Cardinals’ locker room didn’t feel particularly upbeat.
“It felt a little like a loss,” sophomore Donovan Mitchell said, “because we didn’t execute in the second half the way we needed to.”
Pitino wouldn’t go that far.
“We’re happy with the win, especially when a guy plays great and scores 43 against you,” he said. “Now I gotta go change my shirt.”
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