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Thursday, March 29, 2012
Cardinals' keys for Final Four

By ESPN Stats & Information

Christopher Hanewickel/US PresswireLouisville advanced to its ninth Final Four with its victory over Florida on Saturday.

The Louisville Cardinals are making their ninth trip to the Final Four, the fewest of this year’s participants.

Here are five things to watch for with Louisville this weekend.

Pitino has been here before
Rick Pitino is the third coach to take more than one team to multiple Final Fours. The other two coaches to do so were Jack Gardner and Roy Williams.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Pitino is the second coach to face a former team in the Final Four. Roy Williams led North Carolina to the 2008 Final Four, where he lost to former school Kansas.

This is Pitino’s sixth Final Four appearance, and three of those trips have been with teams seeded fourth or lower. He is the first coach to lead three teams seeded that low to the Final Four since seeding began in 1979. Larry Brown, Tom Izzo, Lute Olson and Brad Stevens have each done it twice.

Pitino has been to Final Fours in New Orleans before but hasn't had the best of results. This is the third time that he has led a team to the national semifinals in New Orleans, with Providence in 1987 and Kentucky in 1993 both falling short of the championship game.

Defense wins championships
Louisville is holding its opponents to 35 percent shooting when it plays man-to-man defense this season, the lowest percentage in the nation.

The Cardinals’ man defense held Kentucky to 21.7 percent (5-for-23) when the teams met earlier this year. That was the lowest field goal percentage by the Wildcats against man-to-man defense this season.

Louisville has recorded 29 steals in the NCAA tournament, the second-highest total in the field. Fourteen of those steals were by players stepping into passing lanes, while 13 were strips.

Big East runs redux
Louisville’s run to the Final Four bears a close resemblance to Connecticut’s title run last season.

Last year, the Huskies went 9-9 in the Big East and finished in ninth place. The Cardinals lost one fewer game this year and received a first-round bye in the Big East tournament by finishing seventh.

Both teams entered the Big East tournament with four losses in their last six games before starting long winning streaks.

Key player
When Louisville played Kentucky on New Year’s Eve, Russ Smith scored a career-high 30 points off the bench as the Cardinals lost by seven. Unfortunately for Louisville, he was the only player to reach double figures.

After scoring only 46 points in his previous six games, Smith has scored 47 points in his past three games and led the Cardinals in scoring twice.

Second chances
Kentucky outscored Louisville 20-6 on second-chance opportunities earlier this season, and that number could be key in the rematch.

Louisville has allowed only nine second-chance points in its past two games. Kentucky has scored 26 points in the same span and leads the SEC with 13 second-chance points per game this season.