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By LARRY VAUGHT
NEW ORLEANS â€” Louisville coach Rick Pitino knew for his team to beat Kentucky, or even compete with the Wildcats, it must win the rebounding battle.
â€œWe knew they were going to play like starving dogs on the glass. We haven’t eaten in a week, and the only food for us is the rebound. We had a very difficult time early. The game early, when we got behind, really hurt us. It took so much incredible energy to get us back in the game, and they gave it,â€ Pitino said after UKâ€™s 69-61 win Saturday that puts the No. 1 Cats into Mondayâ€™s national title game.
Louisville won the rebounding 40-33 and had 19 offensive rebounds. Still, the Cards shot just 34.8 percent (24-for-69) from the field and Pitino and his players knew why â€” Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis.
â€œThe difference, quite frankly, is just Anthony Davis is the No.1 player picked in the draft.Â When you’re playing against Bill Russell at the pro level, you realize why the Celtics won 11 world championships. When you see this young man at the collegiate level, you realize why they’re so good. Not that their other players aren’t, but he’s so much of a factor,â€ Pitino said.
Davis had 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field. He had 14 rebounds, including 12 defensive boards, and blocked five shots. The Cardinals couldnâ€™t guess how many shots he changed.
â€œAnthony Davis, he’s a great player. He can change every shot. Everything we try to get close into him, he’s just so â€” I would say he has good footwork.Â He kind of falls back a little bit and times his shot pretty well,â€ Louisville guard Chris Smith said.
â€œHe just has great length, so he’s able to alter shots. It’s difficult for guards like Peyton (Siva) and Russ (Smith) to get a clean look like they usually do,â€ Louisville teammate Kyle Kuric said.
“Without Anthony Davis, they are average defensively, they are pretty good, but with him, they are No. 1 in the country,” Russ Smith said. “At the end we couldn’t capitalize on all those chippy shots around the basket. We had so many opportunities, but we couldn’t score.â€
Russ Smith was 4-for-15 from the field. Peyton Siva was 4-for-11 and Chris Smith 3-for-11. Center Gorgui Dieng was just 3-for-10 from the field against Davis.
But Russ Smith said Kentuckyâ€™s whole demeanor makes the Wildcats difficult to beat.
“They have everyone in attack mode going to the basket all the time, everyone attacks offensively,” Smith said. “That’s what they’re great at. They are always looking to score.”
However, Pitino said to beat Kentucky, it starts with figuring out how to evade Davisâ€™ defensive presence.
â€œI think a little bit at the end, you’ve got to get the shotâ€‘blocker. What they do is if you run a pickâ€‘andâ€‘roll, he stays in the lane. You got to get your people to seal him, bother him, duck in on him, overpower him,â€ Pitino said. â€œGorgui is not at that stage to do that yet.
â€œAre they beatable?Â No question about it, because Vanderbilt did it. But you’re going to have to play great offense, great defense, and you got to bring your Aâ€‘plus game and they have to have a B game. That’s what has to happen. They’re a great ballclub. You have to get one or two guys in foul trouble. But Kansas and Ohio State are capable of having an Aâ€‘plus game, and so are we.Â We just didn’t have it.â€
Pitinoâ€™s 1995-96 national championship team at Kentucky had a roster full of future NBA players like this UKâ€ˆteam does and dominated most teams like the Cats have this year. Still, Pitino said every team is â€œdifferentâ€ and noted that his 1996 championship team was deeper.
â€œBut their six are every bit as good as our (first) six, so you can’t really compare eras,â€ Pitino said. â€œI will say this, that Anthony Davis is as fine a basketball player as there is. They have a great basketball team, one that I know John (Calipari) is really proud of.Â To tell you the truth, I haven’t always liked some of the Kentucky teams.Â I’m not going to lie to you.Â But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way they play.
â€œI’ll certainly be rooting for them hard to bring the trophy back to Kentucky because I’m really impressed with them, not only as basketball players, the way they carry themselves, their attitude.Â They’re a great group of guys, doing a tremendous job. Louisville will be rooting for Kentucky, which doesn’t happen very often, to bring home that trophy to the state.â€