Louisville Will Win the Big East Championship with Defense

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IMarch 14, 2009

NEW YORK: Marquette tried to stop Villanova's Scottie Reynolds with 10 seconds left in Thursday's Big East quarterfinal. But the Golden Eagles ended up allowing a game-winning layup at the buzzer.

In Friday's semifinal, Louisville had the same gameplan: stop Scottie Reynolds. The Cardinals succeeded with ease in stopping not only Reynolds, but also the rest of the Wildcats.

"They doubled him [Reynolds] every time he had the ball in the backcourt," said 'Nova skipper Jay Wright.

"Anytime we ball screened they iced him down the baseline and doubled him."

Louisville let Reynolds get off just six shots and forced him to turn the ball over six times. The key to stopping Reynolds was pressure.

"When we play man or zone, we really put great emphasis on pressure on the basketball," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

The 'Nova guard wasn't the only Wildcat to struggle against a relentless Louisville defense.

As a team, Villanova shot just 34 percent and turned the ball over 23 times.

What makes Louisville so effective is the Cardinals' ability to stop one particular player without giving up too much to the rest of the opposing team. Louisville can also transition from shutting down one player to shutting down another.

The Big East's Most Improved Player, Dante Cunningham, scored 12 points in the first half, but just two in the second.

"I think we picked up the pressure on him on the perimeter, so when he did get the basketball, we were smothering him," Pitino said.

Louisville put the pressure on Reynolds and Cunningham in two different ways. Reynolds couldn't handle the ball and operate the offense in the halfcourt. He gets most of his scoring off the dribble, rather than getting open looks created by his teammates.

"I think those four guards with the pressure they're able to put on the ball for 40 minutes, full court, it never stops," Wright said.

"They get 10-, 12-point leads, that pressure is still there. It's still as intense as it was at the beginning at the game."

With Cunningham, the Cardinals took away his ability to hit shots from his "seven spots." The senior worked on hitting jumpers from inside the arc from seven different locations on the court.

Louisville doubled Cunningham every time he received the ball with his back to the basket inside the arc. The Wildcat forward couldn't turn around and shoot over his defender.

"They put pressure on our guards for 94 feet, and it was tough as far as getting the ball up the court," Cunningham said, "It was tough to get it inside."

That pressure is going to win Louisville the Big East Championship.

With Syracuse waiting in the Championship, the Cardinals should be licking their chops. That pressure defense wore down Notre Dame in the regular season. It also wore down one of the best teams in the country, Pittsburgh.

With the Orange coming off three games in three days, including seven overtime periods, the Cardinals should be able to tire the 'Cuse out with ease. Pitino even thought SU might run out of gas today.

"Syracuse will really gut it out and play well in the first half, and somewhere in the second half, they should lose their legs," Pitino said.

The 'Cuse's shooting percentage dropped in the second half against West Virginia, but had enough left in the tank to still win the game.

Louisville stops anybody and everybody, and forced the Orange into one of its worst offensive performances of the year in the schools' first meeting.

Louisville will be the first team to play hard-nosed, suffocating defense against Syracuse and will be the first team to top the 'Cuse in the Big East Championship tournament.