Cards in 'must win' situation against Orange

Louisville (16-8, 4-7) faces a 'must win' situation Saturday night to keep their Big East Tournament hopes alive when they take on struggling Syracuse (17-9, 5-6) in the Carrier Dome.

With five games left to play in the regular season, the Louisville Cardinals (16-8, 4-7) figure they've got to win three more games to qualify for next months Big East Tournament and keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

That's why tonight's game against Syracuse could make or break the Cardinals season. After tonight, Louisville has winnable home games remaining against Marquette and DePaul, but has two nearly impossible road trips to negotiate against No. 11 West Virginia and No. 1 UConn.

"Seven (Big East) wins would guarantee you getting into the Big East tournament," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We're not giving up on this year. We still believe that we can get to the tournament, and win four games in Madison Square Garden. But we've got to get there. That's the most difficult thing for us right now because the schedule is against us."

The schedule isn't the only thing working against Louisville. Starting center David Padgett continues to be slowed by knee problems. He suffered a concussion last weekend against South Florida, but figures to be ready to go against the Orange tonight. Freshman point guard Andre McGee is nursing also nursing a sore groin.

"We're just trying to hold him together right now," Pitino said of Padgett. "He practiced one day this week. We're just trying to get him through the season. That's the main thing."

Earlier in the week, Pitino had talked about starting freshman Chad Millard in place of 6-8 sophomore Juan Palacios and Terrance Farley for Padgett. On Thursday, though, Pitino wouldn't commit to that lineup.

"I don't know exactly who we're going to start," said Pitino.

Pitino said he's seen improvement lately from Palacios, especially in practice.

"He's improving," Pitino said. "It's been noticeable in the past ten days. He's more mobile, he's getting up and down the floor better."

Syracuse is coming off a disappointing 82-65 loss to Cincinnati Wednesday. The Orange have lost six of their past eight games coming into tonight's contest against Louisville.

"I was hoping they would save that for us," Pitino said. "We're probably going to see a different Syracuse team against us because they do have great pride in their ability. They need the game, and we need the game. It should be a heck of a ball game."

Though Syracuse has struggled recently, Pitino said Jim Boeheim's team does plenty of things well on the court.

"We know what they do well," Pitino said. "They're number one in the conference in steals, number two in shot blocking, they're a great offensive rebounding team, they're big and long, and they've got one of the premier guards in America."

6-2 senior guard Jerry McNamara leads Syracuse. He averages a team-high 16 points per game, and scored 14 in the loss to the Bearcats earlier this week.

The Cardinals will also have to navigate Syracuse's patented zone defense if they hope to upend the Orange on the road.

"Like any zone, they've always been long up front and on the wings," explained Pitino. "When you have great length, you can cover the gaps in the zone. They play it, they know it very well, and they're very good at it."

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