Louisville, Ky. — Louisville coach Rick Pitino doesn’t need a whistle. He needs a couch, a clipboard and a sign that reads “the doctor is in.”
In six weeks, the Cardinals’ confidence and top-five ranking has vanished thanks to a pair of neutral-site losses, the latest a 70-64 defeat to Minnesota last week.
While Pitino knows his underachieving team could be better at free throws and three-pointers, he thinks Louisville’s biggest problem may be between the ears.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have mood swings and that’s why I think we’re not reaching our potential right now,” Pitino said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with basketball, I think it has to do with psychology. That’s the unfortunate thing. We’ve got to get through that period.”
The sooner the better for the 19th-ranked Cardinals (7-2), who host dangerous UAB (8-3) today. The game begins the final sprint toward a brutal Big East schedule, one Louisville hardly appears ready for after being dominated for long stretches by the undefeated Golden Gophers.
Though the Cardinals have struggled from the foul line (63 percent) and the three-point line (34 percent), Pitino is more concerned by the inconsistency of his upperclassmen, particularly forwards Earl Clark and Terrence Williams.
Both have been spectacular at times. But they haven’t been spectacular enough to take some of the pressure off freshman center Samardo Samuels, who is still trying to adjust to not being the dominant player on the floor.
“We need to get better play out of our veterans,” Pitino said. “They’re just not playing any better than last year. They’re just maintaining their level. You come back (to school) to get better, not to stay the same and we’ve got to get better.”
Clark, who returned for his junior year after flirting with the NBA last spring, is averaging 13.6 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds. Yet his focus can wane. Pitino joked following a win over Ohio this month that the Cardinals didn’t start playing until “Earl got out of his coffin.”
Pitino isn’t laughing anymore.
“I thought he’d be a very intimidating defensive player,” Pitino said. “We’ve just got to get more out of him and more out of T-Will and not isolated games where you play nine games and two stick out. It should be seven games that stick out. That’s the way it is when you have the talent of Earl or T-Will.”
The backcourt hasn’t been much better.
While sophomore spark plug Preston Knowles has been a pleasant surprise, juniors Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith have plateaued and none of the guards seems capable of getting to the line or getting their teammates involved.