The critics shouldn't call Louisville's 76-71 loss at Nevada Las Vegas on Saturday an upset.
Quite frankly, it was just a prime example of Rick Pitino basketball.
It's November, which means Pitino wasn't fretting over wins and losses heading into the UNLV game, wondering how to counter the Runnin' Rebels' fast-paced style while fearing a vengeful visiting arena. As is the case for most early season contests, Saturday's game was a learning experience for the Cardinals in their first true road test.
So Pitino simply let them play. Let them experience adversity. Let them feel what it's like to lose.
The Thomas and Mack Center packed in 14,390 fans on Saturday, some of which spilled out onto the court to put an exclamation point on UNLV's second triumph over Louisville in two seasons. Pitino didn't have a problem with that—or his team's effort
“It's not a bad loss,” Pitino said. “It's not surprising when you play a road game like this, this early in the season. It's a difficult place to play. We knew it would be a tough game, but we knew it would make us a better team in the end.”
Louisville's roster contains eight freshman and sophomores, and they all played Saturday—including an uncharacteristic 14 minutes from freshman guard Mike Marra and 10 from sophomore forward Kyle Kuric.
That left freshman guard Peyton Siva and sophomore forward Terrence Jennings on the bench for much of the game. Both are expected to contribute greatly to the Cardinals' effort this season, but Siva played 14 minutes and Jennings nine.
Pitino mixed and matched lineups while standing up to UNLV's quick style of play. It caught the Cardinals down 10 at the half and peaked at 53-34 with 14:05 left.
But Louisville came storming back to tie at 64 with 4:25 remaining, then waned down the stretch and chose to die by the three rather than live by it. The Cardinals shot 6-of-21 from three-point range and were 1-of-5 over the last five minutes.
When the final buzzer sounded, Marra was on the court. So was freshman forward Rakeem Buckles.
Jennings and Siva were nowhere to be found when chants of “overrated” screamed down on the Cardinals.
It is, after all, only November—and the last time Pitino left November with an unblemished record was in 2005, when Louisville played only one game in the season's opening month. However, the Cardinals finished 21-13 in their first season in the Big East Conference and followed up a Final Four run with a trip to the NIT.
Since then, Louisville has been a team that starts slow and finishes strong.
That's Pitino ball. That's why Louisville lost Saturday.
And that's why the only thing that can be taken from another unsightly loss to UNLV is that Pitino hasn't changed his style—one which success can't be denied.