The Cardinals get serious about winning a title, but they still have work to do on defense
After Louisville beat Stanford 78-58 in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March, the Cardinals behaved like middle schoolers. They giggled through TV interviews, cracked up at booger jokes, mocked big man Derrick Caracter for his prodigious appetite and acted shocked when fans asked for autographs. Not surprising, really. More than half of them -- including the team's two leading scorers -- were freshmen and sophomores who had never been to the Big Dance before.
The joyride ended two days later with a 72-69 loss to Texas A&M, but with its seven top scorers back and everyone a little more mature, Louisville should go deeper into the postseason next March. The key? Maintaining that youthful energy while playing with more poise and discipline.
That energy was lagging early this fall, however, prompting coach Rick Pitino to run a tape of one of the team's first practices. He harped on the lack of effort at the defensive end, pointing out players who dropped their hands, failed to box out and didn't recover in transition. "We have enough offensive talent to be outstanding," says Pitino, "but the biggest test will be to become a great defensive team."
Junior Terrence Williams is up for the challenge. Pitino calls the 6' 6", 210-pound swingman "the best athlete in college basketball" and seldom has to send him off to do sprints on the treadmill during practice (the punishment for being lazy). "I'm being held to a different standard now because I'm older," says Williams. "I want to be like Coach P, the general on the floor."
Likewise, the 6' 9" Caracter, who missed seven games as a sophomore for violating team rules, has grown up. "Last year he gave me 100 percent [effort] 25 percent of the time," Pitino says. "Now [he gives 100 percent effort] 75 percent of the time, and the other 25 percent is damn good."
But this doesn't mean Louisville is all work and no play. "After every practice we turn the music up full blast and dance," says sophomore guard Jerry Smith. "We're pretty goofy. We like to be a big loving family, always having fun." For this talented bunch, there should be plenty of laughs this year. -- Julia Morrill
Issue date: November 19, 2007