PITTSBURGH (AP) – No Big East player has consistently controlled Pitt star Aaron Gray, at least until now. Louisville’s solution: Make two players do it.
With 6-foot-11 David Padgett and 6-8 freshman Derrick Caracter teaming to neutralize the Big East’s dominant inside player, the unranked Cardinals scored the signature victory they’ve lacked for two seasons. Louisville roughed up the No. 7 Panthers 66-53 Monday night.
The Panthers had not been pushed around like this since moving into the Petersen Events Center in 2002. They had lost only seven times there in 85 games, and only once by as many as nine points _ 73-64 to Connecticut on Feb. 26, 2005. Their last previous double-digit loss at home was 81-67 to Georgetown on Feb. 5, 2001, at Fitzgerald Field House.
“We were just trying to prove everybody wrong,” Terrence Williams said of those who doubted Louisville could pull off a victory like this. “We wanted to come out and play our best.”
The Cardinals (18-8, 8-4 in Big East) did exactly that, confusing Pitt from the start with a blanketing 2-3 zone defense that teamed with a full-court press to force 19 turnovers, 15 in the first half.
Louisville opened a 13-2 lead with only 4 1/2 minutes gone and led by as many as 19 points in the first half, perplexing a crowd of 12,065 that was eerily silent for most of it. Pitt’s players looked equally as confused.
“Maybe it’s better it happened now rather than down the road. The true test is how we respond to this _ not what happened out there,” Gray said.
In the other Top 25 games, No. 14 Georgetown beat No. 23 West Virginia 71-53, and Texas upset No. 18 Oklahoma State 83-54.
Pitt (22-4, 10-2) didn’t play all that well in beating Providence 74-68 on Saturday, but Gray rallied the Panthers from a second-half deficit by finishing with 22 points and seven rebounds.
This time, Louisville kept a fresh big body on Gray at all times, and he never got into a rhythm. Gray quickly got into foul trouble and wasn’t much of a factor with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
With Gray not doing much, the Cardinals’ zone concentrated on shutting down Pitt’s normally reliable 3-point shooting. The Panthers came into the game shooting a Big East-best 42.6 percent behind the arc, only to go 3-for-21.
Pitt’s second loss in its last 14 games trimmed its Big East lead over Georgetown to a half-game.
“How we played is not indicative of this team,” Gray said. “But we’re going to get past it. Maybe it’s something we needed to show us how good we aren’t.”
While nearly every Pitt player was struggling, Louisville was getting scoring from eight players. Padgett shook off a sprained left foot to get 16 points and block four shots in 27 minutes, and the physical Caracter added eight points and four rebounds in only 13 minutes.
Caracter, one of the nation’s top recruits last year, has been a source of worry to coach Rick Pitino on and off the court. But he returned from a six-game suspension on Saturday to get 16 points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes of an 83-63 decision at South Florida, then played another big role in limited time Monday.
“He can really help us,” Pitino said. “He’s buying into what we need.”
Louisville had lost two in a row before beating South Florida, but has won six of eight and 13 of 17. What the Cardinals hadn’t done the last two seasons was beat a ranked team.
“We had to play Pitt, or someone like Pitt, because everybody is talking about signature wins and not paying attention to us,” Pitino said. “We think that when we go to DePaul and South Florida and win in the fashion we win they’re great wins, but nobody else does. As I watched TV, I realized I shouldn’t coach or play anymore because we don’t even get mentioned. The writers don’t even mention us for the NCAAs.”
Shouldn’t be a problem now.