Red-hot U of L faces big road test against UC

No. 19 Louisville (13-3, 2-1) will travel north today to play No. 18 Cincinnati (14-1, 3-0) in an important Conference USA matchup at U.S. Bank Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 PM and the game will be televised nationally by CBS.

Not only is today's game between No. 19 Louisville and No. 18 Cincinnati a battle of two top 20 teams, more importantly, the winner will gain the upper hand in the Conference USA league standings.

At 3-0, Cincinnati sits atop the league standings just one game ahead of Louisville (2-1), who fell to Houston last week but has responded with two impressive league wins over TCU (86-61) and Southern Miss (107-62) since.

"They're a terrific basketball team, one of the better teams in the country," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of the 14-1 Bearcats. "They're our biggest rival. This game means more for both of us because it's a league game."

Senior guard Larry O'Bannon, Louisville's third leading scorer, said he and his teammates look forward to the challenge of playing another top team on the road.

"It'll be another good road test for us just like Florida," said O'Bannon. "We're looking to play hard, execute and see what happens. They're well built and physical and we're looking forward to going up and accepting the challenge."

The Bearcats, who won two of the three meetings between the two schools last season, have won their past three games since falling to No. 1 Illinois 67-45 late last month and knocked off East Carolina 84-78 earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have played their best basketball of the season since falling to Houston and should be bolstered by the return of 6-8 Otis George, who injured his right foot during practice earlier this season.

"We'll play him today," Pitino said. "We took an x-ray earlier this week...and he's ready to play."

George has missed the past eight games for the Cardinals but has averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in five games this season. His return to the lineup should help Louisville on the boards against the physical Bearcats.

"He brings energy back to the team," guard Larry O'Bannon said. "We're glad to have him back."

One player Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins probably isn't glad to see back for Louisville is junior forward Francisco Garcia. Garcia, who has torched UC for 55 points the last two games, enters the game averaging 21.2 points in his past five outings against the Bearcats. The 6-7 forward enters the game red-hot, too, having scored 21 or more points in five of Louisville's last six games.

"I don't think it's Cincinnati," Pitino said of Garcia. "I think he [just gets up] for the big games."

However, the key for the Cardinals could be 6-7 center Ellis Myles. Myles, coming off a 20 point, seven rebound performance against Southern Miss, will likely be matched against Cincinnati's bruising Jason Maxiell, who leads the Bearcats in scoring (16.1) and is the team's second-leading rebounder.

"Ellis Myles is a key in every game," Pitino said. "When he plays well, we generally play well. In order for us to play great, [Ellis] usually has to play well. If he doesn't turn it over like he did against Southern Miss, we generally play our best basketball."

TIME 1:06 PM LOCATION U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio TV CBS RADIO 84 WHAS; Sirius Channel 123

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