Louisville hasn’t lost three straight in nearly two seasons. Rick Pitino is impressing upon his team how tough the Big East conference is to try to avoid that fate.
The 11th-ranked Cardinals look to recover from a difficult week when they face St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
Louisville (12-2, 0-1) fell 71-68 at home to then-No. 12 Georgetown on Wednesday before losing 69-62 at then-No. 3 Kentucky on Saturday. The Cardinals have never dropped their first two Big East games.
“When you play league play and you open up 0-1 with a loss at home, your back is to the wall,” Pitino said. “So we realize right now that every game must be played like a tournament game.”
The Cardinals are seeking to avoid their first three-game slide since Jan. 11-21, 2010. They shot a season-low 32.3 percent Saturday, but Pitino is not concerned.
“Kentucky’s a great defensive team,” Pitino said. “You can’t judge your offense against Kentucky.”
Russ Smith scored a career-high 30 points, making 10 of 20 shots. The rest of the Cardinals made 10 of 42 (23.8 percent).
Smith is a Brooklyn native who leads the team with 10.7 shots per game, averaging 14.8 in his last five. Pitino does not believe that the 38.8 percent shooter will be affected by returning home to play at MSG.
“What is Russ going to do? Take more shots?” Pitino joked. “I mean, how can he? … Russ is Russ. I think if Russ went down to the YMCA, he would try to take every shot.”
St. John’s (7-6, 1-1) is enduring a difficult season with interim coach Mike Dunlap currently in charge as Steve Lavin continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery in October. In addition, the Red Storm have been forced to use seven players in their first two conference games.
Dunlap is expecting Pitino to press to take advantage of the Red Storm’s short-handed team.
“He’s going to end up playing a lot of small ball because he likes to press, run and play Pitino basketball,” Dunlap said. “For our team - Louisville being the toughest test to come - we’ve done well against teams that have pressed us and taken pretty good care of the ball.”
St. John’s is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation at a Big East-low 26.0 percent. The Red Storm made 4 of 24 3s in Saturday’s 83-69 loss at then-No. 9 Connecticut.
“The fact of the matter is, if you look at the film, they were wide open 3s,” Dunlap said. “We’re trying to get better in that area.”
Talented freshman Moe Harkless scored 16 points after he had 32 in last Tuesday’s 91-67 rout of Providence.
Pitino has warned his team not to overlook the Red Storm based on that performance.
“St. John’s is a very, young talented ballclub,” Pitino said. “And it depends on what you let them do, they just blew out Providence, who played Georgetown to the wire.”
The Cardinals have taken five of the last six meetings, winning 88-63 last season.