LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The teacher had one more lesson for his student on Saturday.
Rick Pitino got his 400th career victory when Louisville beat top-ranked Florida 73-65, yet another win over one of his former assistant coaches.
This one came over Billy Donovan, who played for Pitino at Providence and worked as his assistant at Kentucky from 1989-94.
Pitino improved to 14-1 against ex-assistants and has won all five meetings against Donovan, who coached at Marshall before becoming Florida’s coach in 1996.
Pitino attributed his dominance over former pupils to the players he’s coached.
“If we played either on neutral courts or I wasn’t at Kentucky, it would be 50-50,” Pitino said. “I would not have the record I have if I had not been at Kentucky, where I had eight players from one team play in the NBA. It’s about players and the way you play the game.”
Francisco Garcia had 21 points for the Cardinals (4-1), who led by as many as 15 in the second half then sealed the win by holding Florida (5-2) without a field goal over the final 67 seconds.
Pitino is concerned what this win might do for Louisville.
“If we are humble and hungry, we’ll be good,” he said. “The minute you start thinking you’re good is when you start getting into trouble.”
David Lee scored a career-high 24 points and matched a career best with 12 rebounds as the Gators lost their second straight since becoming the nation’s No. 1 team. They lost 69-68 in overtime to Maryland on Wednesday.
“This week has been great for our guys. Everybody may think it’s terrible that we lost two games,” Donovan said. “No, this is the type of thing these guys need to go through in order to get better.”
Second-leading scorer Matt Walsh went 0-for-8 from the field and scored two points for Florida, which committed 18 turnovers.
“We’re just not a very cohesive team from an offensive standpoint right now,” Donovan said. “We have great chemistry off the floor, but we don’t have great chemistry playing on the floor.”
Pitino, who has a 400-145 record in his 18th season, waved his arms and shook his head in disgust as the capacity crowd began the “Overrated!” chant in the closing seconds.
Garcia bent over and cried just before the final buzzer sounded. It was his second game since learning his only brother, Hector Lopez, had been murdered in New York City.
“Tragedy can bring out the worst in the best,” Pitino said. “It helps to get it out and cry.”
Garcia attended his brother’s funeral in the Bronx on Thursday. He cried for 20 minutes in the locker room before Friday’s practice.
“I’m going to dedicate everything to him — my life, my season, everything,” Garcia said. “He was my blood, my best friend.”
Louisville’s scrambling pressure defense forced the Gators into six turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Steals by Taquan Dean and Brandon Jenkins fueled a 7-0 Louisville spurt.
But Louisville missed 10 of its first 13 shots and two free throws by Walsh and a layup by Lee capped a 10-4 Florida spurt that made it 19-19.
The teams traded baskets until Nate Daniels’ 3-pointer from the wing started an 8-0 Louisville burst with 3:06 left in the opening half.
The Cardinals shot 34 percent (11-of-32) in the first half, but scored 15 points off 11 Florida turnovers to take a five-point halftime lead.
“That’s as good a defense as we can play,” Pitino said. “We wanted to press effectively and get to their 3-point shooters.”
Louisville led 43-39 when Dean hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 13:19 left to trigger a 12-4 run. Garcia converted a three-point play and Luke Whitehead made his first 3-pointer of the season to push Florida’s deficit into double digits.
The Cardinals’ defense continued to keep the Gators off-balance and Garcia’s layup with 4:46 left gave Louisville its biggest lead, 66-51.
Florida came back from 17 points down to force overtime against Maryland on Wednesday and Lee’s reverse dunk with 4:38 left Saturday triggered another comeback.
Dean made a free throw with 3:55 left, but Lee had a tip-in and Christian Drejer hit a 3-pointer from the wing over the next 90 seconds to draw the Gators within 67-61.
The Cardinals went cold again, missing five straight shots in a three-minute span. But Louisville’s defense came up with stops. Rashid Al-Kaleem missed a 3-pointer from the wing with 51 seconds left and Dartez blocked a 3-pointer by Drejer with 21 seconds remaining.
“When we got it to six, we got a little overanxious,” Donovan said.
The Cardinals defeated a No. 1 team for the third time in their history. The last was a 72-69 victory over Duke in the 1986 national championship game.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
CBT: Turning the page on the Mike Rice scandal, Rutgers hired Louisville's Julie Hermann as athletic director on Wednesday. But, Hermann has a prior scandal of her own.
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