Rick Pitino hopes Louisville received enough of a wake-up call from its last contest to prove beneficial in preparation for its only true non-conference road game.
The veteran coach doesn’t expect his undefeated No. 4 Cardinals to have an easy time Saturday when they look to continue their recent success over Western Kentucky.
Amid its best start in three seasons and coming off a 20-point victory over Indiana, Louisville (9-0) had reason to feel confident heading into Sunday’s home meeting with a UNC Wilmington team coached by former Cardinals assistant Kevin Keatts.
However, Pitino’s group looked more complacent than confident while allowing the Seahawks to trim an 18-point, second-half deficit to two before regaining control and winning 68-57.
”Everybody is going to give us their best shot every night,” said star forward Montrezl Harrell, who had 19 points with 17 rebounds.
That’s the point Pitino planned to further reinforce after the Cardinals shot a dreadful 1 for 13 from 3-point range. Though Wilmington shot 38.7 percent, it was the third-best performance against Louisville this season.
“It’ll teach a valuable lesson (to our players),” Pitino said. “If you don’t play your style every single game, regardless of who it is … I mean this was great because we would have lost to Western (Kentucky). No question about it.
“So now the ego is out of that locker room, because ego is edging greatness out. They’ll get back to earth, and they’ll stop reading their press clippings.”
Louisville has won the last five meetings with Western Kentucky (5-4) by at least 10 points and shot better than 50 percent in four. The Cardinals won 114-82 in their last visit to WKU on Dec. 22, 2010, and Hilltoppers coach Ray Harper needs the expected sellout crowd to be a factor this time.
“They’re going to have to will us on Saturday,” he said. “We’re going to need their help. It’s going to have to be continuous.”
Though Louisville has shot 42.5 percent in its last five games – 28.6 percent from beyond the arc – and Pitino may be irritated, Harper knows he has more reason to be concerned than his opponent.
The Cardinals have compensated for some poor shooting with an aggressive, pressure defense that’s allowed only three opponents to reach 60 points. They also lead the nation while pulling down 46.7 rebounds per contest.
“Everybody who steps on the floor (for Western Kentucky) will have to contribute,” Harper said.
WKU has averaged 79.0 points on 48.1 percent shooting while winning two of three, a stretch highlighted by an 81-74 win at Mississippi last Saturday. However, the Hilltoppers rank outside the top 100 averaging 25.3 defensive rebounds while the Cardinals are third with 17.7 offensive boards per contest.
“We can’t get outrebounded by seven or eight and give up 16 offensive rebounds,” Harper said. “If they have 16 offensive rebounds that will probably be 32 points for Montrezl Harrell.”
Averaging 17.0 points and 10.4 rebounds, including 5.0 offensive boards in the last five games, Harrell hopes to see more action after early foul trouble limited him to a season-low three points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of last season’s 79-63 victory over the Hilltoppers. Teammate Terry Rozier (15.1 points per game) scored four but pulled down 10 boards.
Hilltoppers guard T.J. Price (17.1 ppg) had a game-high 22 points in that contest, and is averaging 25.3 points and has gone 13 of 22 from 3-point range in the last three games.
WKU has dropped eight straight against Top 25 teams since a 68-54 win over then-No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 30, 2008 in Nashville.