Since losing starting center David Padgett for the season two weeks ago, the Cardinals have shown steady improvement. Louisville coach Rick Pitino pointed out several reasons why his team has played better ball of late.
"I think the biggest factor has been Tello Palacios getting healthy again," Pitino said. "T-Will is grasping and understanding not to just stay at the three-point line. Chad Millard is getting better and Terrance Farley, when he is concentrating, is a defensive force and can disrupt a lot of offensive play. I just think everyone's playing better and they're a very hungry basketball team to improve."
The win over Marquette guaranteed the Cardinals a spot in next week's Big East Tournament in New York. Pitino said that was a significant achievement for his team.
"It was very important for our program," Pitino said. "Coming off the Final Four and then not making the conference tournament would have been a step back."
Before the Cards get to New York, though, they've got one last test before the post-season. It's not easy test, either. Perhaps the nation's best team, Connecticut beat Louisville earlier this season in Freedom Hall despite a career-high 26 points from Padgett.
"(Uconn) is a great shot blocking team," said Pitino. "They're a great rebounding team and they're the deepest team in the country. We know we have our work cut out for us. But again, this is another great step going into the Big East Tournament. So it's only good for us."
How do Cardinals plan to negate the Huskies shot blocking advantage without the 6-11 Padgett in the lineup?
"You have to respect them, offensive rebound and make the extra pass," Pitino said. "They're frontcourt is one of strongest in college basketball in a long time."
A win over Uconn could also have post-season ramifications for the Cardinals.
"If we don't beat Connecticut, we're going to have to get hot in the tournament like West Virginia to go to the NCAA," Pitino said. "We'll consider the NIT, but we're just thinking about the NCAA right now."
At 18-10 and 6-9 in the Big East, a win over Uconn would provide Louisville some clout with the NCAA selection committee if the Cardinals can put together a run in the Big East Tournament. If that's to happen, though, the Cardinals will have to improve their shooting touch from the floor and the free throw line.
"Our basic problem is we haven't been a great shooting team," Pitino said. "Shooting kills a multitude of sins. We're playing at a tempo right now that teams I've coached in the past would score 85-90 points every game. We're just a very inconsistent perimeter shooting team. And that's one of the problems we have winning on the road."
The Huskies haven't lost at home all season, and Pitino understands his team has its work cut out.
"I think it will be a heck of a basketball game," Pitino said. "We have to play a flawless game to come away with a victory."