Louisville, Memphis renew old rivalry

No. 4 Louisville (9-0) and Memphis (5-3) will renew their rivalry for the first time since 2005 Saturday at the KFC YUM! Center.

No. 4 Louisville and Memphis will renew their rivalry Saturday at the KFC YUM! Center.

For decades, the Cardinals and Tigers were heated rivals as members of the Missouri Valley, Metro and Conference USA. But the two programs haven't played each other since Louisville's thrilling 75-74 win in the C-USA championship game in 2005, which propelled the Cardinals to the NCAA Final Four.

Louisville vs. Memphis
Date: Saturday, Dec. 17
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Site: KFC Yum! Center/Crum Court, Louisville, Ky. (22,000) (27-2, 2 yrs.)
Television: CBS national Verne Lundquist, play-by-play; Clark Kellogg, analyst.
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Bob Valvano, analyst (SIRIUS Ch. 91, XM 91); Also: Westwood One - John Tautges, play-by-play; Pete Gillen, analyst.
Series History: UofL leads 51-34 (30-11 in Louisville, 15-22 in Memphis, 6-1 neutral)
Last Meeting: UofL 75, Memphis 74 (March 13, 2005 in Memphis, Tenn.; C-USA Tournament Championship)
Officials: Pat Driscoll, John Higgins, Mike Stuart
Next U of L Game: Dec. 20 vs. College of Charleston, KFC Yum! Center, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Saturday the two old foes will finally meet again in a game that will be televised on CBS. It will be Memphis' first game in Louisville's new arena.

"It'll be a fun game. It's a great rivalry in Louisville history – two great traditions," Rick Pitino said.

The game could be a clash of wills, though Pitino expects a fast-paced game. Memphis ranks first in scoring (81 ppg.) in C-USA, while Louisville ranks first in the Big East in scoring defense, holding opponents to 52 point per contest.

"It's two teams that want to showcase their skills and play hard," Pitino said. "It's a nationally televised game. They're a terrific team. We think we have a good team. We've had great games with Memphis in the past – bizarre finishes. We expect another great basketball game."

Memphis, 5-3, has been inconsistent this season. The Tigers started out the season ranked in the Top 10, but have dropped out of the polls after losing to Michigan, Georgetown and Murray State. Memphis lost 76-72 at home Dec. 11 against Murray State.

Pitino wants Memphis to join Big East
Rick Pitino has been outspoken about his desire for Memphis – and Temple – to join the Big East. Pitino believes the Big East strengthened football with additions of Boise State, Houston, San Diego State, SMU and UCF. Now, Pitino hopes the league will focus on boosting the basketball side with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia leaving the conference.

"We brought in great football schools, now we've got to get basketball strong again," Pitino said. "We lost three great basketball traditions – Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. I know football drives the engine in college athletics. But the Big East was founded on basketball and we need to something about it. Personally, I'd love to add Memphis and Temple and we'd be great again."

Does Pitino think the league will add Memphis and Temple?

"I think there's a very good chance getting one of the two," Pitino said.

"This game is a 50/50 game, anybody can win," Pitino said. "They're very talented. They're very good one on one players and very underrated defensively. They really get after you. They're great in the open court, they average 80 points per game."

Memphis starts four guards, led by 6'6 Will Barton, one of the nation's top players. Barton leads the Tigers in scoring (20.4) and rebounding (7.6). 6'0 Joe Jackson is the Tigers second leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. Forwards Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas and guards Chris Crawford, Wesley Withersoon and Antonio Barton all average between 6 and 9 points per game.

"They have very good athletes," said Pitino. "They are a very big steal team. They create a lot of defensive mistakes and turnovers and get out and go. They want to push it. They're very explosive one on one and that's been our weakness. We've got to do something about it this game to win."

Louisville's biggest task will be stopping Barton, who has scored 23 or more points four times this season, including 27 against Murray State in Memphis last game.

"He's very good, very long, very talented. He gets out on the break very well," Pitino said. "He's a terrific one on one basketball player."

Pitino said Louisville will have to contain Memphis' drives to the basket, something they have struggled to do against opponents this season. To match up better against the Tigers, Pitino might insert Russ Smith and Rakeem Buckles into the starting lineup, replacing Chris Smith and Chane Behanan.

"We don't put too much emphasis on starting, but Russ will probably start this game and Rak could start the game," said Pitino. "I'm not sure which way we'll go yet.

"I hope we can contain them off the bounce. If we do contain them we'll have a good chance of winning. We're trying to contain the blow-by and Russ and Peyton have looked good in practice. They'll probably start out the game tomorrow because they have two small guards as well. We have to do something about our ball containment against these guys."

Though Louisville ranks sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense and has held eight of nine opponents under 60 points, Pitino says his team has considerable room for improvement on the defensive end of the floor.

"We have not played really good defensive basketball. We've been getting beat off the dribble and guys are taking it to Gorgui too much and that's not good," Pitino said. "If you check our defensive statistics you'd think we're really defending. But we're not defending at all. We're confusing people at times. We're wearing people out at times but playing very poor defense. This is not a very good defensive basketball team yet. I don't think the guys have had a chance to work together. It's been musical chairs. Now I think we can start to get better defensively."

Louisville is aiming for their first 10-0 start since the 1996-97 season. With Memphis coming to town Saturday and a tough College of Charleston on tap next week, Pitino thinks his team will have to step up their play to extend their winning streak.

"We're not playing great basketball right now, but we're winning and surviving," Pitino said. "I think we're going to get a lot better. We've been doing enough good things to win. We've been playing good ball, making a lot of mistakes and winning. If we give a Fairleigh Dickinson or IUPUI performance against Memphis or Charleston we'll be 9-2. We have to have much better performance."

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