Cards brace for "dog-fight" against UC

Having won ten of their past twelve games, Louisville (15-6, 5-2) is ready for a "dog fight" on the road tonight against struggling Cincinnati (10-10, 1-5) and first year coach Mick Cronin.

Having won ten of their past twelve games, the Louisville Cardinals, after a one year absence from the "Big Dance," can once again think about the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville has won 5-of-their last 6 games, including a dramatic, second half comeback win last Saturday over Syracuse 76-71 after falling behind by 14 points midway through the final period.

Now, at the midway point of their Big East schedule, the Cards find themselves 5-2 in league and tied for third with Georgetown behind Big East leaders Pittsburgh and Marquette.

Riding a hot-streak, Louisville now faces an important six game Big East stretch that includes four tough road games. That road begins tonight in Cincinnati against the struggling Bearcats. Led by former Louisville assistant Mick Cronin, Cincinnati is currently last in the league with a 1-5 record and have won just once - a 96-83 win over West Virginia Jan. 20 - in their past eight games.

"We have our hands full," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "This is going to be an absolute dog-fight. This game is the halfway point in the Big East. So it's still a long train ride to the end. We're just taking it one game at a time and doing the best we possibly can."

The keys for Louisville are simple. Defend the three, rebound and take care of the ball against the Bearcats pressure defense.

"They shoot a lot of three's and if they're on they can beat any team on a given night," Pitino said. "They hustle their brains out and their record is not indicative of what they do because they've been competitive with everybody except Memphis."

Louisville hasn't been lighting it up with their shooting recently, but they have been finding ways to win like did against Syracuse despite making just 36 percent of their shots. Pitino credits his team's improving health for their solid play.

"We're healthy – that's the most important thing," Pitino said. "This good fortune with the way we're playing basketball started when we got healthy. We've always had a great attitude and tried hard. But we're deeper and healthier and that's a big positive for us."

Though they won't win any awards or honors for their shooting, the Cardinals have been doing "other" things, like protecting the basketball and playing defense, that have helped them find the winner's circle of late.

During their last five games, Louisville has averaged less than ten turnovers per game and a plus-7.8 turnover margin. And while the Cards committed 10 first half turnovers against Syracuse, they committed just one in the second half.


6-8 Juan Palacios could play big role
tonight against the undersized
Cincinnati Bearcats.

Pitino also has been getting solid play defensively from his team, employing both a 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense. The Cardinals are holding opponents to just 40 percent for the season, and have held six of their last ten opponents below 40 percent shooting. During the past 12 games, Louisville has been particularly stingy on defense, holding teams to just 58.7 points.

"If you're playing good defense and not turning the ball over it keeps you in the game even when you're not shooting it very well," Pitino said. "This team is playing well now because they're taking care of the basketball and playing good defense, not because of scoring."

Notes

Juan Palacios needs just 84 points to join the 1,000 point club at U of L. Louisville and North Carolina are tied for the most 1,000 point scorers with 57 each.

Louisville is ranked #65 in the RPI and #63 by Sagarin. The Cardinals overall strength of schedule is rated #52 in the RPI.

Freshman forward Earl Clark has been playing better of late and is seeing more playing time because of his improvement. The 6-9 Clark has averaged 15 minutes during Louisville's last three games and had 10 points and six rebounds against Syracuse.

"He is maturing and it's taken him a while to learn the offense and defense, but he's getting a lot more comfortable," Pitino said. "We've said all along that he's the most gifted of the four freshmen."

Pitino will hit the recruiting trail after his team's game in Cincinnati. "I'm going to see a high school game right afterwards," Pitino said.


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