Pronouncing himself "totally disgusted" with Louisville's performance in its 58-51 loss to South Florida in the KFC Yum! Center season finale Wednesday night, coach Rick Pitino is promising to "shake things up in a dramatic way" when the No. 19/18 Cardinals (22-8, 10-7) take on No. 2 Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) in a nationally-televised game Saturday afternoon (CBS, 4 o'clock tipoff) in the Carrier Dome.
Speaking on his weekly radio show -- Pitino's regular pre-game press conference Friday afternoon was cancelled due to the severe weather warnings -- wasn't asked, not did he volunteer, exactly what changes he has in mind as UofL tries to avoid its third loss in the last four games and snap the Orange's nine-game winning streak.
"I've got a lot of confidence that this team will rebound," Pitino said. "Our fans will probably be surprised with who's going to be on the court, but we're going to lay it all on the line and see what happens. Before we go to the (NCAA) tournament we're going to get this thing straightened out."
Although he didn't reveal what he has in mind, he was critical of the recent play of senior forward Kyle Kuric and sophomore center Gorgui Dieng and said he wants to give freshman swingman Wayne Blackshear more playing time. After the loss to USF, Pitino also menntioned playing freshman forward Angel Nunez more due to his (alleged) shooting ability. Nunez played just four minutes against the Bulls, missing all three of his shots.
Kuric scored 14 points against USF, but had just two rebounds and no assists, and Pitino was also upset with his defense. Dieng managed just four points and four rebounds in 31 minutes after getting only five points and five rebounds in a 57-54 win over Pittsburgh.
"I'm not happy with Kyle," Pitino said. "His defensive effort in the past 3-4 games. . .he's one of the people I'm not happy with and I told him that. You can't be just a 3-point shooter, you've got to create steals, get offensive rebounds, do more things. He did some good offensive things.
"Gorgui hasn't played well in his last three games. He got pushed around by South Florida, pushed around by Cincinnati, physically manhandled. Prior to the last thre games he was rebounding, blocking shots, was very active, and the last 2 or 3 have been very disappointing. I think he's kinda hit the wall."
Pitino said he thinks Blackshear could provide significant offensive help if he quits worrying about reinjuring his shoulder. Blackshear scored 13 points in his collegiate debut, a 77-74 win at West Virginia, but has scored only six points in five games since then -- all against DePaul. He played just one minute against USF.
"We told Wayne, 'Look, let's pack it in for his year or you're going to have to lace 'em up and start playing like the player we recruited,'" Pitino said. "I'm hoping Wayne can come on and be another scorer."
The game will have no impact on Louisville's seeding in the Big East Tournament -- the Cards are locked into a No. 7 seed -- but a victory would be an immense boost otherwise, restoring some of the confidence that has surely been lost recently and improving their potential seeding for the NCAA Tournament.
Before the loss to USF, most prognosticators had UofL penciled in as a No. 4 seed, but they have slipped to a No. 5 and could fall farther with a loss to Syracuse, especially if they don't win a couple of games in the Big East Tournament, where they'll open Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the winner of No. 15 Providence vs. the No. 10 seed, probably Connecticut.
UofL lost its first game against Syracuse, 52-51 at home on Feb. 13, snapping a seven-game winning streak against the Orange. The Cards haven't been swept in the regular season by a conference team since 2006, when they lost twice to both Villanova and UConn.
Syracuse, which has been idle since edging UConn 71-69 last Saturday, will be celebrating Senior Day and taking aim at a possible overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. UofL has won its last two trips to the Dome, 67-57 in 2009 and 66-60 in 2010.
"Senior Night, for a No. 1 seed. This will be an easier game than people may think," Pitino said, tongue-in-cheek.