Before league play began, Rick Pitino broke Louisville's 18-game Big East schedule into six three game segments. His goal was to win two of three games in each segment. To Pitino's surprise, the Cardinals have accomplished that goal through the first five segments, which included a 55-37 road win at Rutgers Tuesday."If we can go 6 for 6 it would be absolutely awesome," Pitino said. "We feel very good that we're reaching our potential. We made the segments because we felt we were going to have some rocky times this year. But we haven't had any rocky times. We feel this team is reaching its potential and that's why we're so happy with the results."
While Louisville hasn't lost a Big East game at home this season, the Cardinals will face their toughest test against the Panthers, who have won six of their last seven games, including a, 71-58, victory over West Virginia Thursday night.
"We're obviously going to play the best team in the Big East Sunday," Pitino said.
If Louisville is to remain perfect at home against Big East foes, the Cardinals will have to hold their own against a physical Pittsburgh team on the boards. The Panthers lead the Big East in rebounding and rank second nationally in rebounding margin, out-boarding opponents by more than 11 per game.
"The biggest task at hand is that they're the best rebounding team in the nation," Pitino said. "They are the most fundamentally perfect rebounding team in the nation. They're big and they pose a great challenge.
Pittsburgh center Gary McGhee is the Big East's fourth –best rebounder, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game. Four of the Panthers five starters average at least 4.4 rebounds. Only two of Louisville's starters – Terrence Jennings and Rakeem Buckles – average more than four boards.
"They do a fantastic job offensive rebounding," said Pitino. "They block you out on the offensive glass. And they're big and strong. They're great at [rebounding]. It's they're staple."
Rebounding isn't the only thing the Panthers do well. Pittsburgh also ranks first in the Big East in three-point shooting and assists.
"The toughest thing about playing them is they don't beat themselves because they're fundamentally so sound," Pitino said.
Ashton Gibbs, who leads the Big East in three-point goals per game (3.2) and is second in three-point field goal percentage, leads the Panthers in scoring at 16.4 points per game.
"He's a great shooter," Pitino said. "He shoots such a high percentage he's dangerous, especially at the end of games."
Gibbs isn't the only the player Louisville must stop. Senior guard Brad Wannamaker and forward Gilbert Brown also average double-figures and McGhee, a 6-11, 250-pound center, is a much improved scorer in the post.
"You pick your poison with them," Pitino said. "They're a legitimate No. 1 seed. They're as good as anybody.
"[McGhee] is much more of an offensive force for them," Pitino said. "He takes up great space. He's a big offensive force, much more so than he was last year. He's really improved his game. He's very physical, very good offensive rebounder, very good defensive player."
With a nationally-ranked opponent and several top recruits expected to visit, UofL is encouraging fans to "White Out" the KFC Yum! Center Sunday.
"I think our number one strength is our attitude, our willingness to the pay the price to get a victory," Pitino said. "This has just been a fun season. This has been a fabulous year with the Yum! Center opening up. The team is having a great time together. [Now] we're getting healthy."