Cards playing for more than revenge in Memphis

With their first Conference USA regular-season title within grasp and a high NCAA seed at stake, No. 11 Louisville (23-4, 11-2) is playing for much more than revenge tonight against Memphis (16-11, 9-4) in the FedExForum.

If only it were as simple as a case of revenge for No. 11 Louisville (23-4, 11-2) when the Cardinals play Memphis (16-11, 9-4) Saturday night.

85-68 losers to the Tigers Feb. 9, Rick Pitino's squad has much more at stake than simply trying to even the score against Memphis at FedExForum tonight at 9:00.

"The revenge factor is totally over-rated," Pitino said. "It just doesn't work."

With Charlotte's 80-77 win over the Tigers at Halton Arena earlier this week, the 49ers moved into a first place tie with Louisville. But not only are the Cardinals fighting to win their first regular-season C-USA title, they're also playing for all important NCAA seeding in next month's Big Dance.

Having won 13 of their past 14 games - the only blemish came at home against the Tigers - the Cardinals hope to continue building late season momentum. To do that, they'll have to defend much better than they did earlier this month in Louisville, especially against Tiger point guard Darius Washington and forward Rodney Carney, who combined for 49 points in the first meeting.

So how do the Cardinals plan to slow down the explosive Washington, who lit up the Cards for 24 points and scored a career-high 29 points against Charlotte Wednesday night?

"We have to contain him (Washington) with the one, four and five," Pitino said, "because they run to the three-point line on the break and if you come off the wings they get open three's. And we didn't do a good job with the four and five helping the one the last game. He's an explosive offensive player and he can really finish at the rim."

One change Pitino will make tonight will be inserting 6-8 senior Otis George into the starting lineup instead of freshman forward Juan Palacios. George, who Pitino called the team's best interior defender earlier this season, will be one of the key's for the Cardinals in their quest to slow down the elusive Washington.

Still, Pitino said the switch isn't that big of a deal.

"It's really not a major move to the players and coaches," Pitino said. "Because when it shakes down, Tello will probably play the same number of minutes and that's the most important thing."

"But we've been getting off to a poor start," continued Pitino. "And it's due to our defense at times and they've been exploiting Tello a little bit early in games. Also, he's not rebounding per minute played like he should be. So we've got to give Otis that opportunity."

Pitino also says he's not concerned about losing George's energy off the bench by starting him.

"I'm more concerned about not falling behind 16-5 than I am about energy coming off the bench," said Pitino. "Particularly this time of year."

The Cardinals also finally appear to be getting some good news on the Taquan Dean front. Diagnosed with non-infectious mononucleosis last week, Pitino said Dean appears to be getting stronger and healthier by the day.

"I can see him for the first time in the last month getting stronger," Pitino said of Dean, who scored 15 points in the Cardinals 84-66 win over Saint Louis last Sunday. "He's back to weight-training and he says he's feeling stronger every day. I think by NCAA time he's going to be fine."

And the rest provided by this week's layoff should pay positive dividends for the rest of Pitino's troops.

"This has been a nice break, especially for the freshmen," Pitino said.

TIME 9:05 TELEVISION ESPN RADIO WHAS, Sirius Channel 123 NEXT GAME Charlotte, Thursday

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