Grudge Match; Cards, Tigers to clash for title

No. 6 Louisville (28-4) will face rival Memphis (19-14) Saturday morning at the FedExForum for the 2005 Kelly Tires Conference USA Tournament championship.

Louisville vs. Memphis, Round Three. At stake, the Conference USA Tournament championship - and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA.

But there's more to this game - a lot more - than a C-USA crown. This is a gradge match. And bragging rights are at stake.

These old rivals have already faced each other twice this season, with each team winning on the other's home court. And Saturday morning's final figures to be an emotional conclusion to the long standing rivalry.

For Memphis, the Tigers likely need a win against Louisville to get an NCAA Tournament bid. For Louisville, the Cardinals want to continue their late season momentum in hopes of receiving a No. 1 or 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tourney.

The game also pits the league's two hottest teams. Louisville has won 17 of their last 18 games (the lone loss an 85-68 setback to Memphis last month); Memphis, after dropping their final three regular -season games, has won three straight tournament games - Saint Louis, Charlotte and South Florida - this week by an impressive 15.2 margin.

If the Cardinals are to win their second C-USA Tournament titles in the past three seasons, they'll have to overcome - again - what figures to be the Tigers strong home court edge. But Louisville has been one of the nation's toughest road teams all season - having won 9-of-10 away from home - an indication of their toughness and experience.

"You cannot say how well the guys came and played down the stretch," Louisville assistant coach Reggie Theus said after the Cardinals 74-67 win over UAB. "This is a veteran team and down the stretch veteran teams find a way to get it done and win."

Trailing the Blazers 49-40 with 13:51 to play Friday afternoon, Louisville proved once again it could come from behind during the second half to win. With Francisco Garcia providing the scoring punch - he hit three 3's late in the game - Ellis Myles and Taquan Dean turned up the heat on defense and controlled the boards.

"In the last five minutes of the game we have four or five guys that can make big plays, rebound and make shots," Theus said. "We shut them down down the stretch and took care of the rebounding aspect so UAB did not get second shots."

UAB coach Mike Anderson also credited Louisville's ability to make the critical plays at the end for their 28th victory of the season.

"Louisville is a great team," Anderson said. "You have to give them credit. Louisville attacked us in the second half and rebounded very well. I thought our energy level was good today and we were in a position to win. But Louisville made the plays down the stretch and did what they needed to do to win."

The Cardinals also figure to have another edge. They should be fresher than the Tigers, who will be playing their fourth game in as many days tomorrow, especially during the second half. Louisville, who received a first-round tournament bye, will be playing just their third game in a row.

"I told the team, 'from 10:30 tomorrow until 12:30, nobody's tired during the game,'" Memphis coach John Calipari said. "After the game, I don't care if they sleep for two days. Right now, the adreniline's flowing."

Tigers guard Anthony Rice, who scored 19 points against South Florida, said his team will be ready to play Saturday morning.

"We're going to come out with a lot of energy and try to finish up strong," Memphis guard Anthony Rice.

"They've beaten us already on this court," Calipari added. "We respect them and we're excited to play and continue try to make the NCAA."

The key for Louisville?

"Rebounding," said Theus.

A good omen for Louisville? The Cardinals outrebounded UAB 50-30 Friday. If they handle business on the boards Saturday against the Tigers the way they did against the Blazers, Louisville will take home the 2005 C-USA Tournament title.

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