Cards set for Top 10 clash in Big East opener

Coming off their 58-43 New Years Eve win over Miami in the Orange Bowl Classic, eighth-ranked Louisville (11-1) is set for their Big East Conference opener Thursday night against undefeated and No. 3 Villanova (9-0).

This is what everyone in town has been waiting for since the 2005-06 began two months ago. Thursday night eighth-ranked Louisville (11-1) will host undefeated and third-ranked Villanova in the Big East Conference opener for both teams.

The Cardinals have been dogged all season for playing a soft non-conference schedule. But Louisville's schedule is about to get a lot tougher with the start of league play, and Rick Pitino's squad will face, perhaps, the leagues hottest team right out of the gate.

The Cardinals have taken care of business, winning 11 of their first 12 games this season. They'll enter tomorrows Top 10 clash against the Wildcats fresh off a 58-43 New Years Eve win over Miami in the Orange Bowl Classic in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

In that game, Louisville gave its best defensive effort of the season, limiting the Hurricanes to just 25 percent shooting from the floor, including 2-of-15 from behind the three-point line. The Cardinals also held Miami's leading scorer, talented junior guard Guillermo Diaz, scoreless for only the second time in his career.

The Cardinals jumped out to quick early lead against Miami and led by 10 at the break. But Louisville struggled offensively after halftime, scoring just four points in the first 12 ½ minutes of the second half to fall behind 39-38. The Cardinals rallied, though, behind their stingy defense, and pulled away after reeling off 17 straight behind during a 20-4 run to close the game.

Louisville will have their hands full
trying to Randy Foye and Villanova's
talented backcourt Thursday night. (AP)
Louisville won't be able to overcome a similar offensive draught against Villanova, though. The Wildcats boast the nation's top backcourt, led by senior guards Randy Foye and Allen Ray.

Ray scored 20 points in the Wildcats 75-53 win over cross town rival Temple Saturday, and also got 17 from point guard Mike Nardi and 15 more from guard Kyle Lowry. Foye, the Wildcats leading scorer this season at 21.8 points a game, also chipped nine points. Together, the Wildcats talented backcourt quartet scored 61 of the Wildcats 75 points against the Owls.

"Villanova could easily be No. 1 in the country," Temple coach John Chaney said. "There's nobody that shoots the ball (better) than those four players on the floor, not even Duke."

With 6-7 forward Curtis Sumpter out with a torn ACL, Villanova coach Jay Wright has gotten big contributions from his talented backcourt this season.

"I don't want to make this complicated, but we have really good players," Wright said. "We have guards that can shoot and score and they can go rebound the ball."

The Cardinals will need another outstanding defensive effort against Villanova to have a chance. They'll also need strong support from a sold out Freedom Hall crowd. Louisville has won 13 straight home games dating back to last season, and they'll need all the energy Louisville fans can muster.

And file this away under the good omen category. First-year Big East member Marquette shocked second-ranked Connecticut Tuesday night, upsetting the Huskies 94-79 for their first win in the new league. Steve Novak scored 41 points to lead Golden Eagles.

Will the Cardinals find life in the new league as welcoming as Marquette did against UConn? We don't have wait long for that answer now.

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