Timothy D. Easley
January 23, 2015

Louisville coach Rick Pitino insists he expected his 10th-ranked squad to experience growing pains in its first month of Atlantic Coast Conference play.

As the Cardinals (15-3, 3-2) prepare to visit Pittsburgh (13-6, 3-3) on Sunday, Pitino hopes they begin making major progress.

That process includes off-court matters such as junior forward Montrezl Harrell's surprise announcement that he was no longer a co-captain. The move has generated a lot of intrigue around town, but Pitino downplayed its significance on Friday.

''I've had that happen before,'' Pitino said without elaborating. ''It's really not a big deal. If it was a big deal, I would have announced it. It really wasn't a big deal; you all (the media) made it be a big deal. And, to be honest with you, he (Harrell) made it a big deal.''

The announcement by Harrell, an Associated Press preseason first team All-American selection, leaves senior forward Wayne Blackshear as Louisville's sole captain. Pitino said Blackshear is capable of the responsibility and joked about the players' differing leadership styles as a ''good-cop/bad-cop'' situation with Harrell being ''the hammer.''

Right now, Pitino's mission is getting the Cardinals to be more aggressive offensively after last Saturday's 63-52 home loss to No. 5 Duke. And it's especially essential that Harrell lead that effort.

Harrell enters the Pittsburgh game needing two points to become the 66th Cardinals player to reach 1,000 in his career. But since his season-best 25 points with 13 rebounds in the ACC opener at Wake Forest, he hasn't always been the inside presence that Louisville has needed.

Second in scoring to sophomore guard Terry Rozier at 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, Harrell has averaged 9.0 points and 8.25 rebounds over the past four games. Pitino was pleased with Harrell's 14 rebounds against the Blue Devils but would like to see better shots than the perimeter attempts taken in Louisville's quest to rally from a deep early hole.

''I think he needs to shoot more 16-footers than 22-footers,'' Pitino said of Harrell. ''I thought he played very well against Duke in terms of getting on the backboard. He was much more active against Duke than he was (against) North Carolina.''

For that matter, Pitino desires wiser shot selection from all his players. The coach has often described this year's team as more ''offensively challenged'' than recent squads - which have won 111 games, including an NCAA title, over the past four seasons.

But Pitino has lamented the team's decision-making and occasional struggles against zone defenses. To that end he has spent part of the weeklong break trying to improve areas such as getting more touches in the paint and creating more fast-break opportunities with the press.

It remains a work in progress with at least a half-dozen new faces, but Louisville still has an impressive record in spite of everything and with plenty of time to grow.

''I bet you if you polled the fans right now, they're probably not ecstatic that they're 15-3,'' Pitino said, ''but that's a compliment to what has been done the last three years. I don't take that as a negative; I take that as a compliment. ...

''Like I said, we've got a lot of bumps that lie ahead. But this team is getting better and that's what I look for - improvement. They're getting better. At all phases of the game, they're getting better. It's just, they're taking baby steps.''

Sunday begins a five-game stretch with four on the road for Louisville, which is 8-5 against Pitt overall and 7-5 in the Big East Conference. The Cardinals are 3-1 in the Peterson Events Center.

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AP freelancer Josh Abner contributed to this report.

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