'Crucial' stretch starts against St. John's

Louisville (12-2, 0-1) starts a ‘crucial' four-game Big East stretch Tuesday night against St. John's (7-6, 1-1) in New York.

Louisville starts a ‘crucial' four-game Big East stretch Tuesday night against St. John's in New York.

After winning their first 12 games, No. 10 Louisville fell twice last week to Georgetown and Kentucky. Now Rick Pitino says his team's next four games, beginning tonight against the Red Storm, are crucial to get back on track. The Cardinals host Notre Dame at home on Saturday, before heading to Providence next Tuesday. Louisville's hosts DePaul Jan. 14.

"These next four games are crucial to us," Rick Pitino said. "If we don't come away with W's when these four games are over it's going to be a fight to the finish. We've got to get these four games."

Louisville's loss to Georgetown means the Cards head north 0-1 in league play.

"When you open up 0-1 in league your back is up against the wall," Pitino said. "We realize that every game must be played like a tournament game."

In New York, Louisville will find a young St. John's team that starts four freshmen and one junior and has played the past seven games without Steve Lavin, who had prostate surgery during the off-season. Under assistant Mike Dunlap's guidance, the Red Storm has won three of their last four games. Maurice Harkless, a 6'7 freshman forward, and D'Angelo Harris, a 6'2 freshman guard, lead St. John's in scoring at 15.7 and 15.2. Harkless also leads the team in rebounding at 8.3 per contest.

"St. John's is a very young, talented ball club," Pitino said. "It depends what you allow them to do. They just blew out Providence who played Georgetown to the wire. A lot of it is making sure you take advantage of their weaknesses and take away some of their strengths. Any team in this league can beat you on a given night. It's a crazy game."

Louisville vs. St. John's
Date: Tuesday, Jan. 3
Time: 7:02 p.m. ET
Site: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y. (19,786)
Television: ESPNU Adam Amin, play-by-play; Bill Raftery, analyst.
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Bob Valvano, analyst
Last Meeting: UofL 88, St. John's 63 (Jan. 19, 2011 at KFC Yum! Center)
Officials: John Cahill, Sean Corbin, Tim Clougherty
Next U of L Game: Jan. 7 vs. Notre Dame, 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

If Louisville hopes to get back on the winning track, the Cardinals need to be more efficient on offense. The Cardinals struggled with their shooting in losses to Georgetown and Kentucky last week and made just 32 percent from the field against the Wildcats.

"I think our offense is fine," Pitino said. "I think we have some limitations because of our abilities, but I think our offense will be fine in time."

Leading scorer Kyle Kuric managed just two points against UK. Kentucky played physical with Kuric and didn't allow him many open looks from three. Pitino said the senior forward has to move better without the ball and diversify his game to be effective against aggressive defenses designed to limited his scoring opportunities.

"Kyle's got to learn to do more," Pitino said. "Is he capable to do more? Maybe not. That remains to be seen. He was told to move and he made token cuts. He's been told he's going to be played that way and he has to move without the basketball. All good defensive teams are going to play him that way."

Pitino also wants better play from starting guard Chris Smith, who has struggled offensively in Louisville's past three games. Smith hasn't scored in double figures since the Memphis game and has made just 4 of 20 shots from the field in the Cardinals last three games.

"Chris Smith is not playing well right now because he's trying to do things he's not capable of doing," said Pitino. "Last year he fed off moving, shooting, ball faking and passing. Kyle and Chris fall into the same boat. They're not beat you off the bounce guys. They're guys who move without the basketball. When he gets back to playing to his strengths he'll be an effective ball player."

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