The other day, Louisville coach Rick Pitino complained about his team's style of play.
"We keep getting caught in these slow-down half-court games,'' Pitino said. "And it's our own fault because we don't push the pace enough.''
Well, guess who's coming to town?
Just the team you don't
want to see when hoping for an up-tempo performance.
The University of South Florida Bulls (18-11, 11-5 Big East Conference), who have become expert at valuing each possession and working the shot clock to its limit, will challenge the No. 19-ranked Cardinals (22-7, 10-6) Wednesday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
It could be decided by a battle of wills.
Louisville wants to cross half-court in a blur.
USF is fine strolling along, picking its spots, working for a high-percentage shot, then relying on its ultimate strength – defense.
"When you play great defense, you can miss a few shots and not suffer too much,'' said Bulls senior forward Ron Anderson Jr. "That has become our identity. We know when to push it. We know when to pull it back and set up.
"Our defense sets the tone for everything. That's what we're priding ourselves on right now. When we dictate the tempo and impose our will on other teams, good things tend to happen.''
The Bulls, whose NCAA tournament hopes would skyrocket with a victory against Louisville, defeated Cincinnati 46-45 on Sunday in the program's lowest-scoring winning effort since Feb. 24, 1984 (USF 42, Jacksonville 38, when television commentator Bob Wenzel was the JU coach).
"They do what they do,'' Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "And they do it well.''
USF leads the Big East in defense (allowing 57.7 points per outing). For six consecutive games, the Bulls have held opponents to at least 20 points less than their season scoring average. USF might be hard-pressed to continue that trend. Louisville's offense averages 70.7 per game.
Bulls coach Stan Heath said he'd like to get more production from his offense – and he would particularly love more trips to the free-throw line after emphasizing inside play. But USF's overall defensive excellence obscures any scoring inefficiencies.
"We're a grinding kind of team,'' Heath said. "We play with a lot of confidence and we don't get worried if it's close down the stretch.
"There's a lot of trust in that locker room. We started off the year with the bounces going the other way (during a 6-5 start). We had some possessions at the end we just didn't finish. Now it's going our way. Sometimes, you need a little bit of a break. Sometimes, you've got to create your breaks. I think we're doing a little bit of both.''
USF's players seem to understand the difference.
"When you have a smart point guard (freshman Anthony Collins) and some veteran players inside, you should be able to dictate the tempo and play the way you want,'' Anderson said. "When that got away from us at Syracuse (the Orange had a two-half 26-0 run in a 56-48 victory), you saw what happened. That wasn't us.
"For us to have success, we've got to be in control.''
The Bulls have soared with a 14-1 home record, but they are also 4-4 in Big East road games. By beating Louisville, USF would finish with a winning conference road record – an almost unthinkable accomplishment in previous Big East seasons.
"We've got to go out and keep playing, home, road or whatever,'' Heath said. "Keep doing what we do.''
WHO: USF at No. 19 Louisville
WHERE/WHEN: KFC Yum Center, Louisville, Ky./7 p.m.
TV/RADIO: BHSN, Ch. 47/620 AM
RECORDS: USF — 18-11, 11-5 Big East; Louisville — 22-7, 10-6
NEED TO KNOW: USF plays its final road game of the regular season and makes its first trip to the Cardinals’ second-year downtown arena, where Louisville averages 21,470 fans, second only to Syracuse in the Big East. … The Cardinals are 16-3 at home. … The Bulls are 1-5 against Top 25 teams this season and can strengthen their NCAA tournament profile with a second win this season against a Top 50 RPI team. … Senior wingman Kyle Kuric leads the Cardinals in scoring, averaging 13.1 points in 36.4 minutes, both career highs. … Louisville center Gorgui Dieng leads the Big East in blocks per game (3.2) and is fourth in the league in rebounding, averaging 9.2. … USF hasn’t beaten the Cardinals since 2001 and is just 3-25 all-time against Louisville.