Final Four 2012

March 25, 2012 by staff 

Final Four 2012, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino has presided over 616 victories during his 26 seasons in charge of four college basketball programs, but he never felt as conflicted after any of those other wins the way he did Saturday. His team had just erased an 11-point second-half deficit and advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2005.

But after the fourth-seeded Cardinals’ 72-68 win over seventh-seeded Florida in the West Region final, Pitino found himself nearly apologetic as he met with Gators Coach Billy Donovan — a man Pitino considers as his seventh child — briefly at midcourt.

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“I said: ‘Billy, I feel bad. I feel terrible, man,’?” Pitino said. “He said: ‘Are you kidding me, Coach? I am so happy for you.’ That just didn’t happen in this world.”

For so many reasons, Pitino’s latest victory wasn’t supposed to happen. Saturday was supposed to mark the first time Donovan defeated Pitino in seven tries. Florida made 8 of 11 three-pointers in the first half and carried an eight-point advantage into halftime. Pitino was issued a technical foul with just less than 11 minutes to play after his second starter had collected a fourth foul.

The Gators led by 11 with just more than eight minutes remaining in the second half.

But Pitino had been in a similar situation seven years earlier. In 2005, as the fourth seed in the West Region final in Albuquerque, Louisville had fallen behind West Virginia by 13 during a first half in which the Mountaineers made 10 of 14 three-pointers. The Cardinals won that game in overtime, 93-85.

So rather than panic, Pitino made adjustments. The Gators easily found holes along the perimeter in Louisville’s 2-3 defensive zone to take open shots, so Pitino told his team to switch to a matchup zone. And when that didn’t work, Pitino told his players to play man-to-man defense, something the Cardinals rarely practice.

“But the great thing was [Pitino] showed us their plays [against man-to-man defense] before the game,” Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said. “He said: ‘Just in case we do have to go man, here’s what they’re going to do. But we might not use it at all.’ He’s a great coach, and he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame.”

The Gators missed all nine three-pointers they attempted in the second half. But foul trouble continued to hamper Louisville throughout the afternoon. Siva, who finished with nine points and eight assists, fouled out with just less than four minutes to play. Siva’s fourth foul led to Pitino’s second technical of the season.

“Once [Pitino] got the technical, it just seemed like it was the last straw,” Louisville forward Kyle Kuric said. “In this game, it was kind of like calls weren’t going our way and shots weren’t going in. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong. So it was like, ‘Okay, they’re not going to give it to us, so we have to fight and win.’?”

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