Cards face important test against Syracuse

Saturday night's Big East clash between Louisville and Syracuse at Freedom Hall has important implications for both teams. Both the Cardinals and Orange enter the 7 p.m. contest with 4-2 league records, and the winner could get a leg up on a possible NCAA Tournament bid.

Saturday night's Big East clash between Louisville and Syracuse at Freedom Hall has important implications for both teams. Both the Cardinals and Orange enter the 7 p.m. contest with 4-2 league records, and the winner could get a leg up on a possible NCAA Tournament bid.

Louisville enters the game on a hot-streak, having won nine of their past eleven games, including Monday's 68-54 win over UConn. Syracuse, meanwhile, has won 6 of their last 8 games, but fell earlier in the week at St. John's, 64-60.

"Syracuse is one of the few teams in our league that have a veteran lineup," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "They have great experience and explosive young players. They're great in transition, they play good defense, they rebound well and they're a good shot blocking team."

Louisville's defense has been the foundation of their recent improvement on the court. Seven times in their last 11 games, the Cardinals have held their opponents under 60 points – all wins. The Cards have also held nine opponents this season under 40-percent shooting, including both of their past two opponents.

The Cardinals figure to need another strong performance tonight against Syracuse. The Orange have been outstanding on defense this season, too. Syracuse is third in the nation in shot blocks (7.8) and seventh nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.0).

"Any time you beat Marquette at Marquette you're a good road team," Pitino said of Syracuse.

David Padgett is coming off a 19 point, 11 rebound performance in Louisville's win over UConn Monday night. He'll again be a major factor for the Cardinals tonight, matching up against the Orange's 6-11, 258-pound senior center Darryl Watkins.

"(David) struggles with the 6-7 to 6-8 guys more than he does the true centers," Pitino said. "The good thing about this league is that it has true centers. This is a league dominated by seven-footers."

Louisville has also received a boost recently from junior forward Juan Palacios and point guard Andre McGee. Palacios scored 21 and 16 points the past two games, while McGee has provided solid minutes in a reserve role in the backcourt.

"Andre is still about eight or nine pounds over-weight. So we've got to get those eight or nine pounds off of him," said Pitino. "In a 5-10 guard, that's significant."

With tough road games at Cincinnati and Villanova next week, Pitino knows winning league games at home is critical for his teams' chances of returning to the NCAA Tournament this season.

"Our backs are to the wall in terms of how we have to play to be an NCAA team and we know that," Pitino said. "As long as we stay competitive, stay positive and prove our basketball team, we still have a chance at the end of the year to make the tournament."

Derrick Caracter will miss his third straight game for the Cards. Since re-joining the team in late December, the 6-9 freshman has played in just two of Louisville's last ten games.

"He will not play," Pitino said. "We're still waiting for him to take care of a couple issues and get back on the court. The thing I'm real happy with Derrick is that he's working real hard in the classroom. I'm hoping he can get back soon and I'd love to see him back on the team.'

"He has not been with the team at all and he won't be until he does one or two different things that he agreed to do," Pitino added. "It's nothing major, it's very minor. I thought he would have reached it last week, but he hasn't been able to do that."


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