Wednesday’s Pitino vs. Pitino college basketball game looked like what it is when you strip the coaching names from it: a first-year coach with eight new players on a team from a traditional non-entity against a future Hall of Fame coach of a traditional power possibly midway between Final Fours.
Louisville’s Rick Pitino emptied the bench, providing some eventual relief late in the 79-55 trampling of FIU at the KFC Yum! Center, then exchanged a quick hug with son and Panthers coach Richard Pitino after the final buzzer. Afterwards, father and son sounded like each other.
“I didn’t even know he was down there during the game,” Rick Pitino said.
Richard Pitino said, “I thought it was going to be weird, I really did. But in the course of the game, you’re worried about the next play, you’re worried about the next defense, you’re worried about who you’re going to sub in. So, I don’t have time to stare down at my Dad and wave at him or anything.
“I think it was the one time ever you look down at the bench and you love those guys,” Richard Pitino continued. “I love those kids, those coaches, I love my Dad, the staff. They’re just such great people. We had such great time with them.”
FIU’s Pitino likened the two teams to two families, as many of the players know each other; he and FIU assistant Mark Lieberman came to FIU from the Louisville staff, so they know the Cardinals well; and Rick Pitino watches every FIU game, has attended FIU practices and stays in contact with many players with tips on their game.
Adding to the family theme, the game was the 11th annual Billy Minardi Classic, established by Rick Pitino at Louisville in memory of his brother-in-law who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
“It’s tough talking about your son, but he’s going to be a great young coach, he really is,” Rick Pitino said. “He runs really good offensive sets. He’s a little small, he doesn’t have the shot blockers right now, so his defense is not going to be where he wants it. He’s starting from the bottom. He had to bring in eight new players.”
Those offensive sets couldn’t get FIU free enough against one of the nation’s best defenses. Only Tymell Murphy scored in double figures for FIU, with 12 points matching his game-high 12 rebounds. Murphy, who admitted to nervousness playing before 21,411, took 15 shots to get those 12 points.
The first possession of the game saw Louisville junior guard Russ Smith (14 points, four assists) drop in a three-pointer. The last possession of the first half saw sophomore guard Wayne Blackshear (game-high 18 points) hitting a three a breath before the buzzer.
Louisville fired in 7 of 20 from three-point range while FIU hit only 2 of 10. That’s a 15-point difference in a half that ended with FIU down 41-27. Blackshear, Smith and Peyton Siva (15 points, 12 assists) stuck their open shots just outside the arc — FIU’s Pitino said the Panthers wanted to give Siva that shot, but take away his penetration — while Malik Smith and Gaby Belardo couldn’t hit theirs.
“I thought we got some open looks. We missed a lot of them,” FIU’s Pitino said. “The other thing they do that people don’t realize is they wear you out. They may not be getting steals, they might not be getting turnovers, but you look at the two best shooters on our team, Malik and Gaby — one was 4 for 12, one was 3 for 12. And they were getting good looks. So, fatigue became a factor.”
Even worse for FIU, the Cardinals got 16 points off FIU turnovers while the Panthers couldn’t consistently convert the chances they created for cheap buckets.
“Indicative of a team doing a good job paying attention is when you see a low assist total. And they had six,” Louisville’s Pitino said. “That means you’re stopping their options. And he runs some really good offensive sets. But the only thing they could get was dribble penetration, and that’s where we broke down a few times.”
The Cardinals put the game away with a 12-3 run in the second half’s opening 4:56, a run climaxed by dunks by Montrezl Harrell off a Russ Smith assist; Kevin Ware after he pickpocketed Deric Hill; and Harrell after another steal.
Richard Pitino said, “The key now for us is to turn the page and learn from this.”