BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)—Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel is supremely confident: A matchup against Rick Pitino would be a mismatch.
“If it were just like me and coach Pitino, one-on-one, I’d love my chances there,” the former Duke star said Saturday.
Agreed Pitino: “He’s right on that one. He’s got me.”
Instead, Capel hopes Blake Griffin and the rest of the sixth-seeded Sooners get the job done against third-seeded Louisville on Sunday in the second round of the East Regional.
Both teams figure it’ll be a game with a lot of low-post banging, quite a contrast to what they saw to start the NCAA tournament.
Louisville shut down Boise State’s quick tempo and, relying on its strong inside presence, romped 79-61 Friday. Oklahoma did much the same thing in beating Saint Joseph’s 72-64.
“This will be kind of the battle of our bigs versus their bigs,” Cardinals forward Terrence Williams said.
That’s fine with Pitino. He seems to enjoy the challenge of preparing for most anything—he made his mark as a 3-point innovator at Kentucky, got away from that approach at Louisville and then returned to his old ways in the first round.
“I think we’re ready for any style,” Pitino said.
Capel took notice of the Cardinals shooting 12-for-24 from behind the arc against Boise State.
“They made shots from the 3-point line at a high rate. That’s something that they haven’t done all year long consistently,” he said.
Oklahoma also pulled a surprise in its opening game. David Godbold, who averaged only 6.9 points, hit five 3s and finished with 25.
Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said he found out only 20 minutes before tip-off that Godbold would start. Concerned about Griffin and teammate Longar Longar dominating in the paint, Martelli told his Hawks to double-team the big guys and leave Godbold open.
“I just got lucky,” Godbold said.
As for Louisville using the same strategy, Godbold said, “I would invite it, but I know it’s not going to happen again.”
While the Cardinals and Sooners have been March regulars over the years, they don’t see each other a lot. Their last meeting was in 1988 at this same arena, when Oklahoma beat Louisville 108-98 in the Southeast Regional semifinal. Harvey Grant, Stacey King, Mookie Blaylock and the Sooners eventually lost in the NCAA championship game.
To win this time, Louisville probably will need a strong contribution from David Padgett. Sent to the bench with two early fouls, the Cardinals’ leading scorer did not take a shot in the first half Friday night.
The 6-foot-11 senior finished with nine points. While his height helps inside, his ability to spot up at the foul line opens up the Cardinals’ offense.
“I watched him play. Really big, he can pass. He can really pass the ball. I think he’s the guy that makes them go,” the 6-11 Longar said. “He runs their offense real well. Their guards are real athletic, so they’re always cutting in and going to the glass, too. So, we just got to do a good job on him, he can score down low, rebound, and he runs the floor.”
Capel sees the same thing in Padgett.
“He does such a great job of knowing when to cut, when to slip screens, knowing when to hit guys for backdoor passes. He just has a great feel for the game of basketball. And that’s something that’s really rare in today’s game. Not many kids now have feel any more.”
A smart, heady player. Kind of what the wiry Pitino was at Massachusetts in the early 1970s, an assist man who started out there when Julius Erving was a senior.
Capel was a bigger, stronger scorer, earning all-Atlantic Coast Conference accolades at Duke. In his day, Pitino might’ve tried to pull Capel outside and then drive around for layups.
“Not anymore,” Pitino said.