Top 25 Showdown

Rick Pitino's players are preparing for final exams next week. But Louisville's (7-0) players will face their toughest test of the season on the court Saturday against No. 20 UNLV (9-0).

Rick Pitino's players are preparing for final exams next week. But Louisville's players will face their toughest test of the season on the court Saturday against No. 20 UNLV.

Louisville, ranked No. 24 in the AP poll, improved to 7-0 Wednesday with a 61-35 win over San Francisco. Still, there's some doubt about these Cardinals because of the level of competition they've faced to this point.

Sure, Louisville had a really good non-conference win to start the season over Butler. But the Cardinals have been feasting on cupcakes like San Francisco, ranked No. 250 in the RPI, since the November win over the defending national runners-up.

There will be no desert on the menu for the Cardinals when UNLV steps inside the KFC Yum! Center Saturday for a Top 25 tilt. Rick Pitino, who has called UNLV one of the two-best teams he's watched this season, is sure the Runnin Rebels belong in the Top 25. Now, he's eager to find out if his own team is equally worthy.

Peyton Siva has been playing well at the point.
Pitino says Lon Kruger has one of his best teams ever. Remember, this is the same coach who took Florida to the NCAA Final Four in the 1990's.

"We are going to play one of the finest teams in the country. Their ranking doesn't do them justice," Pitino said. "Of all the teams I have seen this year, there is none better than UNLV. That is not hyping them up, they just went to Southern Illinois and beat them by 31 - a team that was 5-2. (That's) pretty impressive, so we have our work cut out for us. We will be ready."

UNLV, off to its best start since the 1990-91team won their first 34 games before losing to Duke in the Final Four, has won the last two meetings against Louisville. UNLV jumped all over Louisville last season, before hanging on for a 76-71 victory.

Kruger's team is led by transfers Derrick Jasper (UK), Chase Stanback (UCLA), TreVon Willis (Memphis), and Quintrell Thomas (Kansas). What makes UNLV so tough? They're really good on both ends of the court.

UNLV is the second most proficient shooting team in the nation, connecting on 53.3 percent of it's shots. The Runnin Rebels also play great defense, ranking ninth nationally in field goal percentage (.369) defense.

"They used to be a good offensive team and a great defensive team. Now, they are just as good on offense as they are on defense," Pitino said.

UNLV can score points. They average nearly 80 points per contest and have out-scored their opponents by 18 per game. Louisville's defense will be tested. The Cardinals have been solid defensively this season, but Pitino wasn't happy that his team let down on defense in the first half against San Francisco because they were struggling offensively.

"I just think our guys were so consumed with our shots not falling that they were forgetting that we made seven mishaps defensively not switching at the right time, not guarding the post the right way," Pitino said. "We broke down defensively, and they shot in the first half one of the highest percentages against us this season."

Still, Louisville held the Dons to just five fields and 11 second half points. The Cardinals rank sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense, eighth in blocked shots, tenth in three-point shooting defense, and seventh in steals.

"We made the adjustments [in the second half], and started thinking defense and not offense ," said Pitino.

UNLV will also challenge Louisville offensively. The Rebels allow just 60 points per game, and limit foes to 36 percent shooting.

Louisville definitely must shoot better than they did against San Francisco. The Cardinals shot poorly from the field (36 percent), three-point arch (28 percent) and free thrown stripe (44 percent) against the Dons' unorthodox 1-3-1 zone defense. Pitino faulted his team for 'settling' for the first available shot, instead of passing and creating player and ball movement.

"What happens when you take the first shot available is you don't get the offensive rebounders into play and you don't get any player movement," Pitino said. "Just because a guy is open doesn't mean you should shoot it.

"In the second half, we created good ball movement and good player movement and look what happened - we got offensive rebounds. We could get no offensive rebounds (in the first half) and they weren't bad shots, but you didn't move the defense. It worked and they gave us the open shot early and they came down and controlled the clock. It was great for our guys to learn this.

"What I told them at halftime is there is always a tournament game when shots aren't falling and you are going to have to win it with defense, and they did it in the second half - they won it with defense."

After several blowout wins against unchallengeing competition to start the season, Pitino should have an opportunity to see how his team responds in a close game against a Top 20 opponent in UNLV.

"There are going to be a lot of close games coming up," Pitino said. "How we execute down the stretch will be interesting."

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