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Pitino doesn’t consider loss to UNLV a total loss

Louisville coach hopes experience in true road environment pays dividends for his club down the road


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV forward Matt Shaw fights for a defensive rebound with Louisville forwards George Goode, left, and Jared Swopshire during the second half of a Nov. 28 contest at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels upset the 16th-ranked Cardinals 76-71.

No. 16 Louisville vs. UNLV

Despite losing a 19-point lead, UNLV held on to beat sixteenth-ranked Louisville 76-71 Saturday.

UNLV-Louisville Basketball

UNLV forward Brice Massamba and the rest of the Rebels celebrate their 76-71 upset of 16th-ranked Louisville Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

POSTGAME EDITION: Rebels produce winners across the board on busy day

Ryan Greene, Christine Killimayer and Ray Brewer discuss a busy day in UNLV athletics, including the hoops squad's resounding 76-71 victory over No. 16 Louisville at the Mack and the football team's sendoff to coach Mike Sanford and its 16 seniors coming in the form of a 28-24 come-from-behind victory at home over San Diego State.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been in the college game long enough to know when a loss isn't a total loss.

In his book, Saturday's 76-71 loss at UNLV fits in that category of the not-so-bad.

"We booked this game to get us ready for the road in the Big East as well as at Kentucky, because this, including the Big East, is one of the toughest places to play in America."

It was the first road test for his squad, which entered the day's action ranked No. 16 in the nation.

The Cardinals both passed and failed.

After trailing by as many as 19 points early in the second half, Louisville came back to tie things up twice, including a 64-64 deadlock with 4:24 to play.

To that point, Pitino's club had scaled the mountain, coming back against a sticky defensive team in front of 14, 390 constantly screaming fans. But once it reached the peak, Louisville tumbled right back down.


UNLV's Oscar Bellfield hit a jumper to put his team back up on top, 66-64, then came a possession which Pitino harped on repeatedly in front of the media following the game.

Amidst confusion in the backcourt, Bellfield jumped a passing lane and took the ball to the other rim, where he was fouled hard by freshman guard Peyton Siva while trying to slam home two emphatic points. He instead hit two free throws a possession later after missing that pair, and UNLV never looked back.

"I was proud of that comeback because this is not an environment where you get too many comebacks," Pitino said. "It was a valiant effort coming back. When we did come back and tie the score, four guys knew the play and one guy didn't, and it really hurt us.

"That's the inexperience of this basketball team. They've got to pay attention in timeouts, pay attention in huddles. It cost us."

Aside from the attention to detail, interior defense also stuck out in Pitino's mind as he broke down just what went wrong.

Despite Louisville's overall length and wealth of size inside, UNLV was able to keep the Cardinals in foul trouble for much of the game, scored 34 points in the paint and scored 10 points in second-chance fashion.

"They're worried about foul trouble too much in coming out than they were about stopping people," Pitino said.

It's a safe bet that Louisville will bounce back well from Saturday's letdown, as the Cardinals play eight home games and none away from Freedom Hall in the month of December.

In that stretch, they host Stetson on Wednesday, followed by Charlotte, Western Carlolina, Oral Roberts, Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Radford and South Florida.

After that, though, begins the tougher portion of the slate, starting with a trip down the road to face Kentucky in Lexington on Jan. 2. That's followed by a vicious conference schedule in the Big East, which year-in and year-out is college basketball's deepest league.

"I hate losing, but I really liked the game. It'll be beneficial for us," he added. "We lost last year to Western Kentucky and it wasn't beneficial to us. This was beneficial."

In essence, Pitino hopes his team will mirror UNLV in a way when the calendar switches into 2010.

He pointed out that younger, inexperienced teams typically don't play sound defense on a regular basis. And while four of Louisville's starters had experience playing heavy minutes early in games a year ago, the rest of Pitino's rotation must come around.

"They're really a good basketball team that's gonna get better and better because they're deep," Pitino added. "We've played them before where they're not quite as deep, now they can get those guys to play that kind of defense, get some subs in and they can come back and still play great defense.

"I like all their guys. I like teams that play hard, so I like all their guys. I like Lon's system, I like how hard they play, and the main thing is they don't embrace this victory, then go on the road and lose. Because the arrogance of success sometimes, you think you're good, you lose the next game, then it wasn't worth beating Louisville. You just have to stay humble, which I know they will, and they'll just get better and better."

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Previous Discussion: 18 comments so far…

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  1. props to Pitino for giving credit where credit is due...

  2. Pitino has 0 class and his actions speak volumes about his character (or lack thereof).

  3. Actually, Oscar missed both free throws from that breakaway foul. The next time down the court, he was fouled and hit both.

  4. Can't say I like the response that Pitino had when he says "That's the inexperience of this basketball team. They've got to pay attention in timeouts, pay attention in huddles. It cost us." A basketball team's performance is the reflection of the head coach's performance, and I believe if everyone does not know a play, well that means in practice it was not drilled into their heads hard enough.

    In any case, great game, and I applaud Louisville and UNLV for putting on a great show.

  5. great game..this is huge step to getting the rebels back to national respect...can anyone say top 25? or ELITE EIGHT!

  6. "Then it wasn't worth beating Louisville." Did he just refer to his team in the 3rd person? Pitino is a great recruiter but is not/never be a good coach. Pitino has much respect for Kruger because he is the coach Pitino envies.

  7. officiating for the game was garbage. Should have stayed a 20 point win, because we should have been up 35

  8. yes, the refs need to have like a week long training session or something...
    Or run background checks on these guys cause some games the calls get pretty one sided (especially from that Jay Leno look alike guy)
    ...and maybe, just maybe, take away their whistles :)

  9. Do people expect Pitino to just kiss UNLV's ass? He was complementary to UNLV, but honest in his assessment of his own team. You can be graceful in defeat, which he was, without being a suck up. To say that it was all UNLV and Louisville had no part in the loss is ignorant. I'm a UNLV fan, but hate reading this crap when people nitpick about every thing.

  10. Pitino gave us a little bit of coaching via the media there. He wants us to keep the win in prospective and go beat Arizona on Wednesday. Our high RPI keeps the their loss a good loss and beating Az on the road for us would maintain the #1 RPI. That being said I think Pitino is an egomaniac and can be classless. I'm glad we ended up with Lon as coach.

  11. Just wondering if anyone caught the UNR vs. UNC game? UNR looked pretty good and ended up losing by 7. The game was at UNC and ended up being Roy Williams 600th win so I imagine that the UNC players were pretty pumped up, and yet, UNR made it a good game. So much for that being a weak win for the Rebels according to some people on this site.

  12. I think the student section had this one called right all along. They said "where's your baby" clap clap, clap clap clap... repeat (forever). Ricky Paternity is right up there with lawyers and car salesmen. If only we didn't leave the jilted Mrs. Paternity at the airport, we could've had him here. Dangit! What a loss... tears

    Editors, this post is meant to elevate the discussion. Thank you in advance.

  13. I saw the UNC/UNR game. Would have been nice if UNR pulled out the win. It's looking like UNR is talented but not very deep and fatigue is costing them games.

  14. Yeah, was similar to what happened to them against the Rebels, but a good indication that UNLV is better than most people predicted and probably a top 25 team come tomorrow.

  15. If Pitino wasn't so busy "Working" the Refs maybe he would have the time to coach his team and all 5 guys on the floor would be on the same page. When your the coach and you constantly argue every call that goes against you it has to affect your team in a negative way.
    Thank God we have Lon and not the winer Pitino!

  16. Oh and it looks like those three days of practice in our gym didn't seem to make the difference:-)

  17. The Nevada Wolf Pack played well at North Carolina and now returns west to play Pacific in Stocton Calif. and it will be difficult to beat Pacific in their Spanos Center

  18. Its great that the Rebels beat Louisville (I greatly dislike Pitino....) but it's early in the season and hopefully the UNLV players and staff won't spend too much time patting themselves on the back for their win.......Arizona on Wednesday is a biggie!

    As most basketball fans know, one win is just that....one win! How good the Rebels may become this season depends a great deal on how they play on the road. Winning at home is much easier than winning on the road!