Relentless pressure is Cards' trademark

December 26, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - No matter what success Kentucky might have against Louisville's pressure defense, UK assistant coach David Hobbs knows the Cardinals won't alter their style for Saturday's game.

"Even if you solve what they are doing, you are going to have to do it again and again, because they are not going to wear down," Hobbs said. "The pressure is not going to lessen if you are successful against them. Our guys have to keep that in mind. Every possession is almost a game within itself."

Kentucky (7-0), No. 1 in the coaches poll and No. 2 in The Associated Press rankings, and 20th-ranked Louisville (6-1) play at Rupp Arena Saturday in a CBS game. It will be the third time the teams have met since former UK coach Rick Pitino took over as coach of the Cardinals.

The Wildcats won 82-62 two years ago in Rupp Arena, and the Cardinals won 81-63 last year in Freedom Hall. Since that loss, UK has won 33 of 34 games, including 27 straight regular-season games.


"Any time you play a Rick Pitino-coached team, you know you have to deal with the pressure," Hobbs said. "You have to take care of the ball and try not to turn it over in transition. You can also make it a lot easier on yourself by preventing them from scoring and not being able to set up their press. If they score, they jump right in that press. Or if you turn it over, it gives them easy opportunities to score."

Hobbs said it's also critical for Kentucky to take advantage of scoring chances when it does beat the full-court press.

"You have to attack, but you also have to be smart," Hobbs said. "If you get out of the pressure, you have to attack the basket. If you don't, you just allow them to pressure you with no consequences for them.

"You have to be poised for the duration of the game. You can't have those periods where you get rattled. We kind of had that last year. We had the game in good control, then we turned the ball over two or three times near the end of the half, they hit two or three 3s and it went from being a 12-point lead to a three-point game.

"You can't let them get in those runs. That's why you have to be smart, but also keep attacking when you get chances."

Louisville is coming off a 107-56 victory over VMI in which guard Taquan Dean went 9-for-12 from 3-point range and scored 31 points. He has taken 65 shots this season, but 49 have been from 3-point range. He's hitting 53 percent behind the 3-point line.

Teammate Francisco Garcia is Louisville's leading scorer at 18.6 points per game. He's a 45 percent overall shooter and is hitting 40 percent (18-for-45) from 3-point range. Garcia also leads the team with 41 assists.

"Garcia and Dean are their two most consistent outside threats," Hobbs said. "Garcia is a guy who acts a lot like a point guard, but he's a 3-man (forward) in size, especially on our team. That creates a lot of problems."

Forward Luke Whitehead averages 14.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game for Louisville. He's a 58.1 percent shooter.

"They have good inside, outside combinations," Hobbs said. "They don't score a lot inside, but they get the ball in positions where you have to respect their inside play. Their focus is more perimeter-oriented, but they've got good athletes inside, too. They just also have guys who can shoot and/or put the ball on the floor. However, they also do a good job rebounding and they are an outstanding shot-blocking team."

Kentucky has won away from home against UCLA, Michigan State and Indiana the previous three Saturdays. Hobbs says there's no doubt Louisville, even though the game is in Rupp Arena, will be the biggest challenge UK has faced this season.

"They are definitely good enough to come in here and beat us," Hobbs said. "They can come in a lot of places and beat people. It's going to be a high energy game. There will be a lot of energy in the stands and there better be energy on the court, too, on our part.

"We've got to play smart. We can't create opportunities for them because that's what they want. So much will depend on how much they get out of their pressure and how well they are shooting the ball.

"We just can't hope they have an off day. We have to make them shoot the ball poorly. We can't turn the ball over and let them get easy shots. We have to get back in transition.

"We've got to make sure they earn everything they get, because I guarantee you they will make us earn whatever we get."


* This will be the first times both teams have been ranked going into the game since 1996, when No. 3 Kentucky won 74-54 over No. 14 Louisville.

* For the past nine years, the team that has won the Kentucky-Louisville football game went on to lose the basketball game. Louisville beat UK 40-24 in football this year.

* Kentucky has shot 59.9 percent from the field in its last three games. The Cats are shooting 50.3 percent for the season.

* Of the 280 minutes the Cats have played this year, they have trailed for only 67 seconds - 12 seconds against Winthrop and 55 seconds versus Marshall.

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