If Rick Pitino thought recording career win No. 499 was tough, his first attempt at achieving a college coaching milestone might not be any easier.
The Louisville coach looks to become the latest to reach 500 career victories as his 14th-ranked Cardinals face Dayton on Saturday afternoon at Freedom Hall.
Pitino got to this point after the Cardinals (5-1) held on for a 47-44 home win over Miami (Ohio) and its deliberate offensive system last Saturday.
In his 22nd season as a college coach, the 55-year-old Pitino is 499-183 and could tie Lou Carnesecca and Bob Knight as the 12th-fastest coach to reach 500 wins. Pitino, who is 147-59 in his seventh season at Louisville, could be flirting with 700 had he not spent eight years coaching in the NBA with New York and Boston.
“From the standpoint of missing out on some golden years at the college level, there’s no doubt I did that,” said Pitino, who won a national title with Kentucky in 1996 and is the only coach to lead three different schools to the Final Four. “I look back and I look at mistakes I’ve made, and the one thing I preach to everybody is learn from the past, don’t live in it.”
Pitino hopes his team follows that advice after struggling to shake off the RedHawks and facing Dayton (6-1), which has won five in a row and is looking for a third straight victory over the Cardinals.
“We’re playing a program that is one of the most successful college basketball programs ever and one of the best college coaches ever in a great environment,” said Dayton coach Brian Gregory, whose team’s only loss was 67-56 at George Mason on Nov. 17. “Obviously, it’s a huge challenge for us to go on the road and play a Top 20 team that I know will be ready to play.
The Flyers won 68-64 over Louisville in Cincinnati on Nov. 24, 2006, in the teams’ first meeting since 2000. Louisville, which leads the all-time series 39-26, last beat the Flyers 68-65 on Dec. 21, 1998.
Though Dayton averages a modest 68.3 points, Louisville should experience a faster pace than last Saturday, when it scored its fewest points of the season, but also allowed a season low by holding its second opponent under 50 points.
“It was pressure packed with every possession,” said Pitino, whose team averages 73.8 points. “It was two teams playing great defense.”
The Cardinals were paced by their frontcourt as Derrick Caracter and Terrence Williams each had 12 points, while leading scorer Earl Clark had 10 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for his fifth double-double this season.
“It’s not a fun game to play in,” said the 6-foot-8 Clark, whose averaging 14.0 points and 11.8 points.
Sophomore guard Jerry Smith looks to bounce back after he was held to five points—five below his 10.3 average—against Miami. He had 13 and five rebounds versus Dayton last season.
The Flyers are coming off a 68-54 over High Point on Wednesday. Freshman forward Chris Wright had 16 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double and picked up the slack after leading scorer Brian Roberts was held to seven points for the second straight contest.
The 6-8 Wright averages 13.9 points with 7.4 rebounds, second only to Roberts, who averages 18.0 points. Roberts had 20 in last season’s victory over Louisville.
Dayton, which also beat Miami (Ohio), 63-62 in its most recent road game on Nov. 28, will face its first ranked opponent of the season. The Flyers have lost their last five games versus Top 25 teams since winning 76-73 over then-No. 25 Saint Joseph’s on March 14, 2003.