LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Louisville is selling T-shirts before Monday night’s game against No. 4 Villanova as part of a “Whiteout” promotion.
The shirts also pay a tongue in cheek homage to fashion forward coach Rick Pitino, who has worn an eyebrow-raising white suit during similar promotions in recent years.
The shirts include the phrase “respect the suit” and features a silhouette of Pitino in white with a bright red tie.
Pitino’s stylish attire, however, isn’t the only thing looking for respect. The same could be said for the defending Big East champions.
Louisville (12-4, 3-0) is unbeaten so far in league play, though the wins have come against South Florida, Providence and St. John’s, hardly the best the conference has to offer.
The Wildcats (14-1, 3-0) will be a considerable step up in class.
“This is a good game to see where we’re at,” Louisville guard Preston Knowles said.
The Cardinals have been all over the map this season, opening the year with four straight wins before a slump that included losses to Western Carolina and Charlotte.
They’ve won seven of eight - the loss came at No. 3 Kentucky a week ago - but have hardly been dominant. After rolling through the conference last season behind a physical defense and spectacular play from departed stars Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, Pitino has used a mix-and-match approach this year.
Louisville raced up and down the floor with Providence in a 90-72 win last Wednesday then gutted out a 72-65 win over St. John’s on Saturday.
Star guard Edgar Sosa had a season-high 26 points against the Friars but started the second half against the Red Storm on the bench while Pitino opted for Knowles to provide a spark.
It worked, for one night at least. Pitino will have to go to the well again to solve the Wildcats, who use four guards to spread the floor and beat opponents with their speed.
“They are very difficult to play against,” Pitino said. “I think they have nine guards.”
At times, it sure seems that way.
The Wildcats have won five straight since guard Reggie Redding returned from suspension, including a pair of taut victories over Marquette. Five players are averaging in double figures and can go 10-deep.
“We have great respect for Villanova the way they play,” Pitino said. “They play every possession hard, they don’t get beat on loose balls. They are great with their hands. We’ve had great battles with them and this will be another one.”
Louisville could use a quality win to get back some of its swagger and provide a reminder that Kentucky isn’t the only team in the state with aspirations of being a factor in the NCAA tournament.
Yet Pitino is wary about putting too much emphasis on just one game. Monday night’s game signals the start of a brutal three-week stretch for Louisville that includes road trips to improving Pittsburgh and No. 8 West Virginia.
So is Villanova coach Jay Wright, who isn’t worried about his team being emotionally drained after escaping Marquette on Saturday then hopping on a plane to head nearly halfway across the country for their second game in barely 48 hours.
“We’ll be fired up to play,” he said. “It’s easy to get your guys fired up.”
It’s not easy, however, to get the players prepared. Pitino said his team still has trouble devouring scouting reports, and Villanova’s frenetic style is in stark contrast to the slow, methodical tempo the Cardinals faced against the Red Storm.
“It will be a lot different, that is the thing that is intriguing about this league,” Pitino said. “Every game has got to be played differently.”
The Cardinals are still searching for a style the best suits them. They also know they might not have one.
“Sometimes you can’t make a team play your tempo,” Sosa said. “You have to play their tempo … it’s very challenging, but it’s very fun.”