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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Pressing on


    INDIANAPOLIS – The Sweet 16 round may contain the most pressure of any game in the NCAA Tournament.

    In scouting No. 12-seed Arizona, the No. 1-seed Louisville men’s basketball players could have just watched film of themselves, and vice versa.

    When Coach P. goes against against Coach P., and the red-clad Cardinals face the men in Cardinal red, members of each team may feel like they are looking into a mirror when it comes to defense.

    “”If you watch tapes of Arizona, you would think you are watching tapes of us the way they play,”” said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. “”It’s almost like an identical style of play.””

    Both teams’ defense are very similar in that both teams press the same way. Each team has a half-court trap, and both prosper from forced turnovers that turn into fast breaks. Though the presses are slightly tweaked, Pitino said Arizona’s defensive scheme is the closest he has seen to his own.

    “”It’s quite interesting,”” said Pitino, who recruited Arizona forward Jamelle Horne. “”It’s kind of eerie watching both teams – how similar they are and how they play.””

    The Wildcats are slightly familiar with playing a team that defends like they do. Pacific 10 Conference regular season champion Washington plays a full court, man-to-man defense, though it doesn’t trap as much as Louisville does.

    Defending national champion Kansas also showed an extended pressure against Arizona.

    “”I think Louisville does it as well as any team in the country,”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”So to prepare for that is difficult. I don’t know we’ve seen a press like they’re going to play against us.””

    The press Louisville and Arizona both like to play can be extremely tiresome on the players. Pitino is able to utilize a deeper bench, giving his players rest. Pennell is not so fortunate, but he said the extended commercial breaks during NCAA Tournament games help take pressure off of his players in a shallow rotation.

    “”With the long timeouts, it definitely helps us,”” Pennell said. “”Also, when we’ve sensed (the players are) a little bit tired, we get them out right before the media timeout, which many coaches do, to buy them extra time.””

    On paper, Louisville may have an edge over Arizona, at least when it comes to recent NCAA Tournament history. The Cardinals are in their second straight Sweet 16 and their 17th since 1975. That marks the most out of any school except North Carolina, Kentucky and Duke in the past 24 years.

    Pitino is also 8-0 in Sweet 16 games.

    “”They’re a heck of a team. They’ve got great guards, great big men, they’re a very athletic team,”” said UA wing Chase Budinger. “”They have been together for a while; they’ve got a great coach. I just can’t praise them enough because they’re such a talented team.””

    The Wildcats do, however, have an advantage on the court when it comes to free throw shooting. So even if Arizona’s version of the press causes its players to foul, the Wildcats may not be in hot water right away.

    The Wildcats have a .739 shooting percentage from the charity stripe and the Cardinals shoot just .638.

    “”We have weaknesses like every team has weaknesses,”” Pitino said.

    Louisville senior guard Andre McGee said some players may just doubt themselves at the line, and this is no time to blow unchallenged shots.

    “”(Free throws) are a special teams type of play, like a field goal or something,”” McGee said. “”You have to execute it well or you could easily lose games.””

    Sometimes players go to the showers right after practice, said Louisville guard Terrence Williams.

    “”Now, (Pitino) makes everybody shoot free throws for like 20 minutes, then you got to make like 15 in a row before you can leave,”” said Williams, who was best friends with and lived with former UA forward Marcus Williams who now plays for in NBA’s Developmental League.

    Extra time at the free throw line has brought more relaxation for Pitino’s squad. That has to do with the Sweet 16 stage, he said, knowing that it is just one weekend away from a possible Final Four berth.

    “”You can touch it, you can feel it, smell it,”” Pitino said. “”Now it’s time to have a lot of fun. We had some fun, but now it’s time to pick up the fun part of it, and just really, really focus on this time because it’s special.””

    No pressure.

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