Whoever wins that battle will probably win the war - and advance to Saturday's second round against the winner of the Texas A&M/Pennsylvania game.
"That is what makes the NCAA Tournament so fun," Louisville center David Padgett said. "We want to try and get them to do what we want and they want to do the same thing. We just need to stick to what we do best."
The two teams also enter the game heading in opposite directions. Louisville has won seven of their past eight games; Stanford has lost four of their past five games. And while Louisville guard Brandon Jenkins says the Cardinals "want to get up and down, press and get after it and get deflections," Pitino believes his team can winning playing either style.
"I think we've been a very good half court team this year," Pitino said. "It's going to be whether or not we can rebound with them."
Still, freshman point guard Edgar Sosa made it clear how Pitino wants his team to attack Stanford.
his dunking skills during
Wednesday's open practice session.
"Coach (Pitino) told us he wants this to be a ping-pong game," said Sosa. "They have tall guys who may get tired faster, so we want to make them run, rather than slowing it down and playing to their advantage. We have enough depth to run and hopefully our stamina is higher than theirs if it comes down to the last couple of minutes."
Therein might lie the crux of the matter. Stanford, with 7-0 freshmen twins Brook and Robin Lopez, out-rebound their opponents by nearly six per game. While the Cardinals have proven a capable rebounding team, out-rebounding foes by more than two boards per game, they'll need strong effort on the glass from 6-11 David Padgett, 6-9 Earl Clark and 6-8 Derrick Caracter to keep pace with the bigger Cardinal.
"They are a very impressive basketball team," Pitino said of Stanford. "This is one of the toughest opening round games I've ever coached. They're big and they're plus six rebounding. They beat you with power and size, and the key will be whether or not we can rebound with them. We have to take great shots because we won't get second shots. We have our work cut out for us."
Louisville will likely use their full court pressure and fall back into their 2-3 zone. And while most of the pre-game focus has been on Stanford's 7-foot twins, Padgett says the Cardinals will have to do a good job defending Stanford's perimeter players, including leading scorers Lawrence Hill and Anthony Goods.
"I don't focus on the individual match ups," Padgett said. "They (Lopez twins) are good players but people overlook they're 1,2 and 3 players. Those are good players and we'll have to pay attention to their guards also."
with this dunk.
Louisville also hopes to have the crowd at Rupp Arena solidly behind them, though the Cardinals coaches and players have tried to downplay the issue of playing less than an hour and a half from home.
"I can assure you if we beat Stanford it won't be because of the fans," Pitino said. "It's such a non-factor. It's about the teams on the court and execution. The crowd isn't going to be a factor."
"Regardless how many fans we have there our main focus is on beating Stanford," Padgett said.
Having a large contingent of fans could also prove beneficial to Louisville's four freshmen, who will be making their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
"We preparing as if it's a road game, but we know the fans should be with us," said Sosa. "We also know that the fans aren't out there scoring, rebounding, or defending for us, so we can't focus on it too much."
The last time Pitino took team to the NCAA's two years ago he was blessed with an experienced lineup that found its way to the Final Four. Pitino isn't as fortunate this time, though, as he'll have to rely heavily on his four talented freshman.
"If I had my druthers I'd rather have experience," said Pitino.
Fortunately for Pitino and the Cardinals, Stanford also relies on a cast of young players that includes two freshmen and a pair of sophomore starters.