Cardinals say their pressure took its toll on Wildcats

December 28, 2003|MARTY WARREN

LEXINGTON - It didn't matter how much people were talking about Kentucky's lack of depth, Louisville guard Francisco Garcia knew that if the Cardinals continued to throw pressure at them, sooner or later they would wear down.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that if we play our style, and the opponents play only seven or eight players the whole game, you're eventually going to wear them down," Garcia said.

"You could see them pulling at their trunks late in the first half and gasping for air, and that is when we started to make our move. We were getting our second wind, and I think they began to feel the effects of our defense."

Reserve guard Larry O'Bannon, who came off the bench to score 11 points, agreed.

"We were trying to limit the 3-point tries that (Gerald) Fitch and (Kelenna) Azubuike took, because they had been lighting it up from the outside," O'Bannon said. "At the same time we wanted to double down on Daniels and Hayes every time they touched the ball. It seemed at times like they were frustrated that they couldn't get off a shot.


"I thought they looked tired at times in the first half, and some of that carried over into the second half."

Louisville received excellent bench play from O'Bannon, junior Otis George and senior Alhaji Mohammed, the brother of former Kentucky center Nazi Mohammed. George led the Cards in rebounding with eight and the trio scored 30 of Louisville's 32 bench points.

Meanwhile, Kentucky received only 10 points from its bench, including eight from seldom-used Brandon Stockton.

"We didn't expect Stockton to come in and be the impact player he turned out to be," O'Bannon said. "He is quick and did a nice job knocking down the open shots when he had them. We were trying to keep the ball away from the middle, but he continued to hit his shots."

The Wildcats had been shooting the lights out since the UCLA game four weeks ago. They hit 60 percent against Michigan State, 54 percent against Indiana and 64 percent in their rout of Eastern Kentucky. On Saturday, though, Kentucky hit only 20 of 59 attempts for 34 percent.

"I think the fact we were able to rotate players into the game and were able to pressure their every move had an effect on them," O'Bannon said. "Every time they made a cut to look at the basket, we had a hand in their face. Very seldom did they get a good look at the basket."

The game began much the same way last year's game began, with Kentucky breaking out to a 24-10 lead and an 11-4 rebounding advantage.

As Louisville center Kendall Dartez said, though, Louisville coach Rick Pitino had nearly the same message during each timeout. He called three timeouts during the first 10 1/2 minutes to convince his team not to give up hope.

"During every timeout, he stressed playing hard and hitting the boards," Dartez said. "He said all we had to do was to continue to play hard and good things would begin to happen." As things turned out, he was right."

And did the Cardinals ever decide to rebound?

They turned the 11-4 rebounding deficit into a 38-30 advantage when the game ended, outrebounding the Wildcats 34-19 over the final 30 minutes of the game.

"I think we just wanted it more than they did at times," said forward Luke Whitehead, who scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds. "Coach stressed rebounding every chance he could, and we started to go to the boards harder. We started blocking out better and trying to hold them to one shot."

Whitehead said getting a win over the No. 1 team in the country on the road should help the Cardinals down the road.

"We lost a tough game against Iowa in our opener and should have won that game, too," he said. "Getting a big win over our interstate rival should give us the confidence we need as we prepare for conference play.

"This is a tough place to win at, with the crowd screaming down your necks for the entire game. But our team never lost focus, which was one of the things that coach Pitino stressed at halftime. (He said) if we kept our poise and played our game, good things were going to happen, and they did."

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