Can Arizona Surprise Pitino in Indy Like in 1997?

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Can Arizona Surprise Pitino in Indy Like in 1997?
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Louisville vs. Arizona NCAA Midwest Regional Sweet 16

Arizona brings in the resume of the 12 seed to this matchup with the number one overall seeded Louisville Cardinals. On selection Sunday it seemed as if the Wildcats were going to see the end of their 24 year NCAA Tournament streak.  Eleven days later Russ Pennell and company have lived to see another day. 

Through the first two rounds, Arizona has been more impressive than the 'Ville.  They have trailed for only 32 seconds total in their two wins.  Add in an average winning margin of 13.5 points and Arizona should be ready to push Louisville.

Louisville struggled through their first two games.  They were tied at halftime against 16 seed and "opening round" (Play-in Game) winner Morehead State.  As they had done in the Big East Tournament, the Cardinals came out hot in the second half to post a 20 point victory.

They were more impressive in the first half against Siena.  They led 42-35 at halftime.  Their patented second half run never came.  The Cardinals literally survived and advanced. A three-pointer by Kenny Hasbrouck that would have brought the Saints within two with 13 seconds left missed and the Cardinals received a dunk from Samardo Samuels to push the final margin to 79-72.

Louisville's frontline has been dominant through the first two games.  Like Arizona, they have had their own big three through their first two tournament games.  Terrence Williams, Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels have combined to score 60.1 percent of Louisville's points in their wins over Morehead State and Siena.  

Arizona's big three of Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise have scored 78 percent of Arizona's points in their wins over Utah and Cleveland State.  One of the keys has been getting a good performance from a fourth player in each win. Against Cleveland State Jamelle Horne had 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks. Kyle Fogg was the spark against Utah with 12 points, four rebounds and three steals.

Louisville is a prohibitive favorite to win this game and move into the Elite for the second straight year.  Some matchups are going to be more important than others and Arizona does have an edge in some areas.

Point Guard

Rick Pitino has had to platoon Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee all season.  Together they average 12.7 PPG and 4.1 APG.  Sosa is the more accomplished offensive player, while McGee is better at running the offense and guarding the opponent's best backcourt player. Terrence Williams will sometimes run the offense as a Point Forward.

Arizona has a big advantage at the Point.  Wise has carried the Wildcats through the first two games.  He is averaging 25.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, has made all 17 of his free throws and is shooting 57 percent from the field. His ability to handle the ball, break the press and find his teammates have been the catalyst for the Wildcats' place in the Sweet 16.

His one downfall through the first two games have been turnovers.  Throughout the season Wise has posted an excellent 2.8-1 assist to turnover ratio.  In the wins over Utah and Cleveland State, Wise had ten assists to eight turnovers.  How well he handles the ball and the Louisville pressure defense is going to be a key if the Wildcats have a chance.

Chase Budinger has also posted an excellent 2.4-1 Ast/TO ratio.  Look for Budinger and Fogg to help Wise bring the ball up the court. 

ADVANTAGE ARIZONA

Shooting Guard

Jerry Smith has been an unsung hero for Louisville all season long.  He is a great shooter (48.3% FG, 40.5 3PT) an underrated defensive player and a team leader.  Preston Knowles comes in off the bench and can play either guard spot.

Fogg has been Arizona's main two guard for the majority of the season.  He is a defensive oriented player that has an occasional good night on the offensive end.  Fogg plays well within his role and is a good shooter from all three categories (FG, FT, and 3PT). 

Zane Johnson comes in off the bench to provide the Cats with an additional shooter.  He shoots 40.2 percent from three-point range and 78.9 percent from the line.

ADVANTAGE LOUISVILLE

Center

Jordan Hill is savvy Junior that is likely to be a lottery pick in this year's NBA draft.  His ability to avoid foul trouble is the biggest key for Arizona.  He averages 18.4 PPG, 11.0 RPG and 1.8 BPG.  He is an athletic player that runs the floor well and is a dangerous shot blocker. He can score through either power or finesse.

Samuels has had big shoes to fill in replacing Louisville's team leader and starting center from a year ago David Padgett.  Samuels has stepped up in the post season after an inconsistent freshman year. During the tournament he is putting up 14.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 3.0 BPG, all of these are way up over the regular season.

Terrence Jennings gives Rick Pitino a shot blocker and defensive presence in the middle to relieve Samuels.  He also has nice touch around the basket and excellent hands.

ADVANTAGE ARIZONA

Forward

Both teams use their forwards interchangeably.  They play forward, not really power or small forward.  Budinger and Horne for Arizona and Clark and Williams for Louisville are athletic, quick forwards that can shoot as well as get the rim.

Budinger was projected as one of Lute Olson's best ever players when he arrived in the Old Pueblo two and a half years ago.  He has had a much better season this year than he did under Kevin O'Neill a year ago. 

Pennell and Mike Dunlap have opened up the offense.  Arizona plays at a much quicker pace than last season. They run more of a motion offense than the set plays that O'Neill prefers.

Horne has shown flashes of arriving and becoming a very good player. His performance against Cleveland State shows he is capable of delievering in a big game.  Arizona is going to need Horne and Fogg to step up if they are going to defeat Louisville.

Williams and Clark are the best pair of forwards that College Basketball has seen in many years.  It's possible that both could be lottery picks.  Williams has been one of the most consistent players in the country. He is a possible triple double every game.  TW can dominate games without scoring.  His unselfishness is a rarity in college basketball these days.

Clark is a bit more erratic, but has been UL's best player besides Williams. He doesn't put up as consistently as big numbers across the board as Williams, but is just as capable of putting up a double-double.  They are Louisville's leading scorers and the team leaders.

ADVANTAGE LOUISVILLE

Bench

Arizona hasn't received much help from their bench all year long. Johnson is the only player that received double digit minutes for the majority of the season.  He and Horne are interchangeable players.  They have alternated time between starting and coming off the bench.

Louisville goes nine deep virtually every night and can go even deeper.  Jennings and Jared Swopshire give the Cardinals good depth upfront.  In the backcourt, Sosa, Knowles, and even Will Scott and Reginald Delk can give Pitino extra fouls

A BIG ADVANTAGE LOUISVILLE

Free Throw Shooting

We saw a year ago how important Free Shooting was.  If Memphis had been able to make there free throws down the stretch against Kansas, they would have won the national championship.

Free throw shooting has been Louisville's biggest weakness this season.  The Cardinals shoot only  63.8 percent to Arizona's 73.9.  Only Hill and Horne shoot under 70 percent.  Budinger and Wise are both over 80.

Of Louisville's key players, only Sosa and McGee shoot over 70 percent.  If the game is close coming down the stretch, this is going to be a huge advantage for the Wildcats.

ADVANTAGE ARIZONA

Coaching

This is probably the most obvious advantage to either team.  Pitino has brought three different programs to a total of five Final Fours.  Russ Pennell is coaching in his third ever NCAA Tournament game.  Arizona's associate coach Mike Dunlap has won a pair of Division II crowns.  This will be the first time they are truly on the main stage.

ADVANTAGE LOUISVILLE

Defense

Both teams have been outstanding defensively in the tournament. Louisville plays Pitino's style to the hilt.  They press and then harass you in the halfcourt.  They want the game uptempo and force a lot of turnovers.

Arizona has used a matchup zone and a press in the first two games of the tournament.  The old saying is teams that press hate to be pressed.  The Cats will probably use the press judiciously against Louisville.  Louisville has commited 37 turnover in their first two games.

Arizona's defense has improved greatly in the tournament.  They held Cleveland State and Utah to 20% from long range.  They have also forced 30 turnovers and allowed only 42.6 percent shooting overall from the floor.  All are significant improvement over the regular season.

Louisville held Morehead State and Siena to 40.4 from the floor and 31.4 percent from three-point range.  They forced 20 turnovers against Morehead, but Siena committed only nine. 

SLIGHT ADVANTAGE LOUISVILLE- They have been more consistent over the course of the season depth will be a factor late.

Intangibles- Both teams have had points to prove at various points of the season.  Louisville has been slighted with UConn and Pittsburgh getting most of the Big East attention. 

The Cardinals were the undisputed conference champs and proved it.  They are on a mission after falling a game short of the Final Four last season.

Arizona knows that a loss ends not only a season, but an era.  Pennell is an extreme long shot to return and Hill and Budinger are likely to enter the draft early.  This season will be the undeniable end to the Olson era. Add in that Louisville is a short ride to Indianapolis and the Cardinals should have an emotional edge. 

Arizona against Pitino in Indianapolis part II.  In 1997, Pitino and his then Kentucky Wildcats were seeking to repeat as National Champions.  Many figured that UK was the definite winner.

Led by Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, and Michael Dickerson, Arizona stunned Pitino and Kentucky to capture the school's only National Championship. Arizona has seemed to play better over the years as an underdog.

The Wildcats should put up a fight for most of the game.  As they have done all year long, look for Louisville to hit its stride in the second half.  The Cardinals wore down both Villanova and Syracuse in the second half in the Big East semifinals and Finals. 

Arizona doesn't have the depth that either of those two teams.  For them to have a chance, the Big three of Wise, Budinger, and Hill are all going to have to play flawless games.

The Wildcats should be able to hang for a while, but Louisville will likely pull away in the end.

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