Panthers prepared for Louisville press
After ascending to No. 1 in the rankings, Louisville has lost three consecutive Big East games and has coach Rick Pitino seeing red.
Pitino called Monday's game against Pitt (17-4, 5-3) a “must-win,” knowing a loss could send the Cardinals (16-4, 4-3) spiraling.
No matter Pitino's mood, Pitt guard Tray Woodall expects to see white at the 22,090-seat KFC Yum! Center, where the Panthers are 0-2.
“Every time I've played there, there's a whiteout,” Woodall said. “It's a crazy atmosphere. They feed off their fans, especially with their press. We've just got to be ready. They're extremely well coached, and those guys play really hard. We have to be prepared mentally to go into that game.
“I'm sure after they lost the first one, (Pitino) was telling his team it's a must-win. I'm sure he's lighting a fire to their (butt) right now because he needs them to play better. He's going to try to have them prepared for us.
“I don't think they're going to be on their heels because that crowd there, they ignite that team. I think those guys will be ready.”
Woodall said he believes the Panthers, who are riding a four-game winning streak, received good preparation for Louisville in Saturday's 93-55 victory over DePaul.
“DePaul did exactly what Louisville does: They press then they get back into their zone,” Woodall said. “I think their press helped us a lot.
“The numbers (Saturday) weren't a great indication of how we handle pressure, but I think in the games ahead, we'll get better. Hopefully, we got all the turnovers out of us.”
The Panthers committed a season-high 18 turnovers against DePaul, although the Blue Demons scored only 11 points off them. Pitt expects to have a greater challenge against Louisville, given that 6-foot guards Russ Smith (18.4 points a game) and Peyton Siva (11.0) are the team's top scorers, and the Cardinals have 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng (9.1 points, 9.8 rebounds) playing deep.
“I feel when Louisville presses, it's like there's eight defenders out there because of how fast they are,” Woodall said. “They've got two quick guards up front. What they do similar to DePaul is they press and then get back into their zone and try to force you to take jump shots. I don't think they give up as many layups on the back side because they've got the big guy in there blocking and altering shots.”
Pitt is 5-7 in its series against Louisville, and nine of their 11 meetings since 2006 have been decided by seven points or less. The Panthers lost at Louisville, 57-54, last year, and in overtime, 62-59, at Yum! Center in 2011.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Louisville runs a “completely different” press than DePaul, but that playing against pressure and a zone defense helped the Panthers address their issue with turnovers.
“It sounds the same on paper, but you look at it close and dissect it and prepare for it, and everyone has their differences, their idiosyncrasies and strengths,” Dixon said. “We recognize that and prepare for that.”