The answer likely will be determined by which team can exploit match-ups the best. The top-seed Huskies will try to take advantage with their offensive ability and quickness. Louisville will attempt to counter with a diversified defense and solid rebounding.
"They rebound with hustle," said Pitino of the Huskies. "They're the quickest team in college basketball. The match-ups are very difficult for us, what we have to hope is that we make the match-ups difficult for them."
The problems for Washington might be these. Can the Huskies' 5-7 guard Nate Robinson be effective offensively against Louisville's length at guard? In turn, can Robinson keep the Cardinals' guards from scoring around the basket? The other big question for the Huskies to answer is whether or not their smallish frontline can compete on the boards against Louisville's lineup of 6-8 Juan Palacios, 6-7 Ellis Myles, and 6-9 Otis George?
"We can get in a close ball game, fight it out at the end and come away with a victory,"Pitino said. "This is two teams that are on a tremendous up-tick."
Pitino believes the Huskies are on par offensively with the North Carolina's and Duke's of the college basketball world. Expect Pitino to change up his defenses throughout the game to keep Washington off-balance.
Palacios' improved effort on the boards
could play an important role against
Pitino can also rely on an experienced group that has taken a business-like approach in the NCAA.
"I sense that we're very business-like, very much into preparation and into the next opponent," said Pitino. "I think they're excited to be apart of the Sweet 16, but I don't think they're really celebrating right now because of the opportunity that lies ahead. The Sweet 16 is the first time you can visualize getting to a Final Four because you know if you win the next game, you only have one more left. In the first round, you can't visualize any of that because you realize that your journey is so long."
And while Nate Robinson has received the most attention this week, Louisville's Francisco Garcia might be the biggest difference-maker in Albuquerque. Garcia averaged nearly 16 point on the season, but scored 48 points in two NCAA tournament games last week and could be the difference for the Cardinals tonight against the Huskies.
"He's been a big factor, as well as Larry," Pitino said. "He's been a positive leader, intense, and he wants to win badly. He understands this is his last year and could be his last game. So he's really stepping up his performance."
The Cardinals are also taking care of business on the boards better than they have all season, out-rebounding Georgia Tech 37-22 in last Sunday's 74-56 win over the Yellow Jackets in Nashville. And the 245-pound Palacios - averaging nearly 10 rebounds in five tournament games dating to the C-USA tournament in Memphis - is the primary reason for Louisville's recent ownership on the glass.
"We weren't rebounding the ball well at all, and he's now become the best rebounder on the team," said Pitino of Palacios. "To go from getting one, two, three rebounds to now rebounding consistently has been big for us."
The reason for Palacios' improved output on the boards? It's simple really.
"He's smart and realized why he wasn't starting," Pitino said. "And he wanted to start."