MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—Rick Pitino has gotten the best of Bob Huggins lately.
In his nine seasons at Louisville, Pitino has beaten Huggins eight times in 12 tries, including three straight since Huggins took over at West Virginia in 2007.
Huggins might have his best chance when the ninth-ranked Mountaineers (16-3, 5-2 Big East) plays Pitino’s Cardinals (13-7, 4-3) on Saturday.
Louisville has yet to beat a ranked team in three tries this season and six of its remaining 11 regular-season games are against Top 25 teams. Pitino believes the Cardinals need seven wins to have a chance at their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
In a league where the difference is slim between Louisville in sixth place and three teams in a tie for 11th at 3-5, every win is that much more important.
While Louisville lost much of its scoring from last season’s Big East championship team, Pitino’s zone defenses have given Huggins fits over the years.
“The little guy sitting over there’s a pretty good coach,” Huggins said. “Rick does a great job of keeping you off balance.
“They’ve changed their pressure a little bit, but it’s still Louisville pressure. They’re still playing 2-3. They’ve changed the 2-3 a little bit, but that’s coaching, and that’s what Rick does such a great job of.”
With the departure of two players to the NBA after last season, Louisville has been erratic.
The Cardinals lost to Western Carolina and Charlotte, then won five straight games. More recently, Louisville had close road losses at No. 3 Villanova and No. 17 Pittsburgh, then beat Cincinnati at home on Sunday.
Despite its ups and downs, Louisville can move into a tie with fourth-place West Virginia, which has won three straight after its own monthlong struggles that included losses to Syracuse, Purdue and Notre Dame.
“We’re hoping for a lot of snow so we don’t have to make this trip,” Pitino joked before adding, “We’re playing good basketball. We’re healthy. And we’re anxious to see what we can do against West Virginia.”
A 62-46 win at DePaul on Wednesday was a rare dominating performance for West Virginia. Like most games, there was a caveat—the Mountaineers got just two points from their reserves.
There’s also been slow starts, poor shooting—the Mountaineers have gone eight straight games hitting less than 50 percent of their field goals— a lack of free throws and lackluster play out of the guard position.
On Saturday, leading scorer Da’Sean Butler will look to reverse his own shooting woes.
Since scoring 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting against Louisville as a freshman, Butler has gone 16 of 45 in three games against the Cardinals since. He scored 23 against Louisville last January, but didn’t get his first field goal until there were 3 minutes left until halftime.
“He’s an inside-outside threat and causes problems for any matchup at the two-guard position,” Pitino said. “Not too many teams in this league have 6-7 two-guards.”
Pitino gave sophomore Terrence Jennings his first start Sunday in a win over Cincinnati. The 6-foot-10 Jennings and leading scorer and rebounder Samardo Samuels gave the Cardinals a big inside presence, and Pitino plans to keep them on the floor together extensively.
“Samuels is a load inside,” Huggins said. “Guys like that are problems for us because we’re so small. Those two bigs together, their ability to get second shots is far greater.”
Butler would rather they not get a first shot, either. He looked back to a game last season in which Jennings had 13 points, two blocks and two steals in a reserve role.
“I remember the last time we played against them at their place, Jennings had a dunk fest,” Butler said. “We need to be ready to go out there and guard. I’m looking forward to that.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this story.