With three difficult games - at Memphis, Charlotte, and at DePaul - remaining before heading to Memphis for the Conference USA Tournament March 6-9, the Cardinals, according to junior forward Francisco Garcia and senior center Ellis Myles, are focused on taking things one step at a time and continuing their improvment on the court.
"We've just got to take it one game at a time," said Garcia following the Cardinals 84-66 win over Saint Louis Sunday evening. "We've got to keep working on moving the ball in practice and doing what we did in the second half (against St. Louis). And we've got to play better defense."
"That's a tough road that we have," Myles admitted. "We have a big stretch coming up with two big games on the road. It's going to be tough but I think we have the guts to do it."
While there's no doubting these Cardinals' toughness and intestinal fortitude, it'll take more than guts to stop Memphis' Darius Washington and Rodney Carney, who scored a combined 49 points in the Tigers 85-68 win earlier this month, Saturday night.
However, with a week to prepare for the Tigers, who play Charlotte in an important league contest Wednesday night, Myles believes the outcome of Saturday's rematch will be in stark contrast to the team's intitial meeting Feb. 9.
Myles had 18 rebounds in his
last outing against Saint Louis
Louisville coach Rick Pitino also understands the import of Saturday's game against the Tigers. He seems confident in his team's ability to win games away from home, based primarily on their 7-1 record this season on the road. Ironically, Pitino believes his team plays better defense away from home, another factor that could bode well for the Cardinals in Memphis.
"I think we'll play well because we're a very good road team," said Pitino of his teams remaining travel dates in Memphis and Chicago. "Obviously we're fighting for a conference championship and an NCAA seed - and we're fighting to become a good team."
Despite the litany of injuries and the recent illness to guard Taquan Dean - or perhaps because of them - Pitino thinks the hardships his team has overcome this season have served to stregthen their resolve for the difficult stretch of games ahead.
"With all the problems we've had this year these guys have worked through all the adversities and injuries and we've come away a better team because of it," Pitino added.
And now that Dean's illness has been diagnosed (mono), perhaps the junior's symptoms of fatigue and soreness can be treated more effectively. Even if that turns out to be the case, Pitino harbors no allusions of seeing Dean anywhere close to full strength the rest of the season.
"He's going to take a lot of vitamins and sleep a lot and we'll have to make the best of it," Pitino said. "But he's not going to get any better this season. You're going to see an exhausted basketball player."
That means others, like Myles, will have to step up their efforts. A 6-7 senior playing his final games in a Cardinal uniform, Myles, who hauled in 18 boards against Saint Louis, sounds as though he's ready and willing to accept the challenge.
"I'm just trying to leave everything on the floor now," Myles said.