Louisville coach Rick Pitino says his basketball team hasn't been itself this season.

"We had to deviate this year," said Pitino, whose Cardinals face Cal in the NCAA Tournament South Regional on Friday at Jacksonville, Fla. "This is not our style where you go into a tournament and a Tennessee or Stanford comes against this pressing team that goes after you.

"That's not us this year. We had to play differently this year to win," he said, "and we accomplished that."

Cal (23-10) has never played Louisville (20-12), but former Bears coach Todd Bozeman, whose Morgan State team faced the No. 9 seeded Cardinals back in November, says Louisville remains plenty dangerous.

"Louisville's physical, they smack you. It was ridiculous how aggressive they were," said Bozeman, whose team lost 90-81 at Louisville. "I'm not complaining about it. But if Cal's not used to that, that's going to be a problem."

C.L. Brown, who covers Louisville for the Courier-Journal newspaper, said Pitino has pulled back from pressing teams relentlessly this season because the tactic has given up too many easy baskets. "The downside is disastrous," he said.

"He's accurate in saying it's not as good as it's been," said Bozeman, whose NCAA-bound team had just 13 turnovers against Louisville. "That wasn't the problem."

Cal coach Mike Montgomery said he hasn't spent time comparing this Louisville team to those in the past.

"Our concern is their team right now, what they do, and they are capable of putting a great deal of pressure on you," he said. "That's what they like to do. They like to wear you down. Maybe initially you don't feel it, but eventually you do when they're playing 10, 11, 12 players."

Louisville forces an average of 15.3 turnovers — a high number, but one per game fewer than Washington coaxes from opponents.

As with all of Pitino's teams, the Cardinals want to run and shoot 3-pointers, ideally in concert. They've attempted 758 3-pointers — nearly 40 percent of all their shots — although their 33.9 percent accuracy is far below Cal's mark of 37.3 percent.

"Rick's a veteran coach," Montgomery said. "He understands if you can get 35 (percent) from 3, you're going to get more production than 50 (percent) from 2."

The team's top players are senior point guard Edgar Sosa and junior low post Samardo Samuels, a 6-foot-9, 260-pounder.

Sosa averages 13.3 points and 4.5 assists and has "had a brilliant season," according to Pitino, except at the free-throw line, where he converts just 66.3 percent.

Samuels had a 36-point outburst against Notre Dame on Feb. 17 but has averaged just 11.3 points in six games since against a diet of double-teams. He's had 23 turnovers and just three assists during that span.

Pitino praised the eighth-seeded Bears, calling them "the toughest first-round opponent I've ever faced."

And it may be true: In 13 previous trips to the NCAA Tournament with Providence, Kentucky and Louisville, only once has Pitino's team been seeded lower than its opponent.

THURSday
At Providence, R.I.
Saint Mary's
vs. Richmond, noon
Friday
At Jacksonville, Fla.
Cal vs. Louisville,
approximately 7 p.m.
All games on Chs. 5, 13