With less than 14 hours between beating Old Dominion in overtime and tipoff against undefeated Wichita State, Rick Pitino knew he needed help. So he called an old friend.
Pitino dialed up his old 2-3 zone during a 55-minute walk-through Thanksgiving morning. And it worked.
No. 10 Louisville's defense confounded Wichita State into 6-of-22 shooting from long range during a 62-52 win over the Shockers (5-1) in Thursday's semifinal round of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament at Imperial Arena in Paradise Island, Bahamas. The Cardinals (5-0) advance to a title game showdown with Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
"To show you how much they want to win, (practice was) 55 minutes and for them to grasp that and take a terrific team and cause some confusion, I'm very proud of them," Pitino said. "I think you can imagine how difficult it is when your players go to bed at 1:15, 1:30 (a.m.), how difficult it is to get up and play well. The matchup zone saved us defensively."
Pitino spent most of the offseason installing a man-to-man defense for this year's athletically gifted Louisville lineup. He said in the preseason that he may teach the team the 2-3 zone that his Louisville's teams made famous during the 2012 Final Four and 2013 NCAA title runs, but the 2-3 wouldn't be a staple of this year's team.
But facing the quick turnaround and a Wichita State that just blew out LSU 82-47, Pitino turned to the zone. The Cardinals built an early double-digit lead and closed out the win over Wichita State with relative ease.
"We saw a different defense than what we've been seeing, a very good matchup zone," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "And we didn't attack it very well. We didn't get the ball inside enough."
The Cardinals were led by 14 points apiece from junior guard Quentin Snider and sophomore shooting guard Donovan Mitchell along with 11 points from sophomore small forward Deng Adel and 10 from freshman wing VJ King. Freshman power forward Markis McDuffie and freshman center Shaq Morris led the Shockers (5-1) with 10 apiece.
"We're elated to be in the championship game," Pitino said, noting the quick turnaround and the toughness of Wichita State.
Louisville successfully shook off a rough offensive performance during a 68-62 overtime win against Old Dominion in the first round of the tournament. In that game, Louisville won despite shooting less than 30 percent from the field.
There were no such shooting woes against Wichita State. In fact, they turned the tables on the Shockers, holding them to just 27 percent shooting in the first half.
"We just wanted to confuse them as much as possible," Mitchell said. "and I think we did that very well."
The Cardinals broke the game open at the 15-minute mark when a jumper by Mitchell started a 12-0 run that put Louisville ahead 18-6 by the 12:25 mark. Louisville was up 20-8 with 10:42 left, but didn't score for the next four minutes as Wichita State cut the lead to 20-15.
After the Shockers' run, Louisville responded with an 11-0 run, which started with a pair of threes, first from Adel and next from Snider to regain a double-digit lead at 26-15. The teams traded baskets in the final minute to give Louisville a 33-17 lead at the half.
"They certainly took it to us in the first half," Marshall said. "We faced our first adversity of the year in a regular-season game and it didn't go so well."
Wichita State made several runs in the second half, but could never break through. Louisville was up 43-27 with 14:15 left, but Wichita State scored 11 of the next 12 points to cut the margin to 44-38 by the 11:42 mark.
Now in a two-possession game, Louisville got a jumper by Mitchell and a pair of jumpers by Snider to stem the Shockers' run and build a 50-40 lead again. Wichita State made another run to cut the margin to 52-45 with 4:36 left, but a pair of 3-pointers by Mitchell pushed the lead to 58-46 three possessions later. Wichita State never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Wichita State will play in the third-place game against Michigan State on Friday.
NOTES -- Sophomore G Donovan Mitchell scored 14 points and had eight rebounds and five assists for Louisville. .... Louisville starting C Mangok Mathiang played just two minutes in the first half before sitting out with foul trouble. He ended the game with four fouls and only played six minutes. ... Louisville junior C Anas Mahmoud filled in for Mathiang, playing 31 minutes and recording five points, five rebounds and six blocks. ... Wichita State hit just 6 of 22 three-point attempts (27.3 percent).