Two subjects will snap Louisville's Denny Crum out of his laid-back manner and bring a glare to his deep-set eyes: the University of Kentucky and his players' apparent lack of discipline.
Kentucky refuses to schedule Louisville in basketball, a snub that Crum has overcome with 11 straight 20-win seasons, one national championship and four trips to the final four. Even the Wildcats can't overshadow those accomplishments.
Crum has less ammunition to refute the discipline accusations, especially when his players display a careless approach that leads to a flurry of turnovers.
Carelessness is Louisville's Achilles' heel, a weakness that Georgetown's full-court press and constant defensive pressure is sure to test Saturday in the NCAA semifinals at New Orleans. For all their athletic gifts and quickness, the Cardinals do not protect the basketball well.
"We sometimes do make more turnovers than I would like," Crum said, "but it's hard not to make turnovers at the pace we play . . . But that is the tempo we want to play, we want to keep things moving; that is when we play our best."
Even Crum ran out of patience when the Cardinals were 11-7 and averaging 18 turnovers. He made two key changes, moving Rodney McCray to center and inserting Wiley Brown, who had not started in more than a year, at forward for better defense. That reunited four of the 1980 championship starting five--only Darrell Griffith was missing.
Since then, Louisville is 12-2, losing only to Memphis State twice on the road. Crum deliberately brought the Cardinals along slowly, using a lot of players during a schedule that included 15 games against NCAA and NIT tournament teams. Now he has a typical Crum creation: a loose, deep, extremely quick squad without a true big man but with plenty of high-jumping, aggressive rebounders. It's also a team that usually gets stronger the more Crum substitutes.
Louisville's outside shooting was erratic earlier in the year, but guards Jerry Eaves, a senior playmaker who started on the 1980 title club, and Lancaster Gordon, an exciting sophomore, both became 50 percent shooters. Senior Poncho Wright is used to break zones and highly recruited freshman Milt Wagner is improving quickly.
Inside, Crum relies on senior Derek Smith, another championship team starter who is Louisville's second all-time scorer behind Griffith. Smith, who averages 15.9 a game, has a nice medium-range jumper and is a tough base line player. He is the player the Cardinals are most likely to rely on in pressure situations, a role Griffith filled magnificently.
The rest of the front court mainly plays defense and rebounds. Behind Brown, a 6-8 senior who has an artifical thumb, and Rodney McCray, a 6-7 junior, are sophomore Charles Jones, who had a superb Mideast Regional both rebounding and shooting. Crum also can turn to 6-9 Scooter McCray, who was considered by some to be the country's best high school player three years ago before he suffered a knee injury. He now is listed as the No. 3 center after playing some guard last year.
It's not surprising that Louisville is in the final four. In November, before the season began, The Sporting News looked at the Cardinals, saw they were returning every starter and 10 of the top 11 players from a 21-9 team, and decided that they should be ranked No. 1 along with Kentucky.
But when Kentucky declined to have its players pose on the cover with Louisville's, the publication gave the top spot to Louisville alone.
"We always felt we had the talent to be in the final four," Crum said. "It was something we were aiming at. We went about it in a shaky manner, but the important thing is to be good at the end of the season and not at the beginning.
"And right now, we are playing about as well as we can play."