Huggins returns with West Virginia

Rick Pitino hopes Saturday's emotional win over rival Kentucky will provide his improving team a big boost tonight against Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers (11-3, 1-1).

Rick Pitino hopes Saturday's emotional win over rival Kentucky will provide his improving team a big boost tonight against Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers (11-3, 1-1).

Louisville played arguably its best game of the season in dismantling Kentucky 89-74 last weekend. Now, the Cardinals get back into Big East play against a dangerous West Virginia team that is coming off a 79-64 win over No. 11 Marquette.

"Anytime you win a rivalry game it's going to boost you emotionally," Pitino said. "I think a lot of fans will look forward to this game because Bob Huggins coached at Cincinnati."

After dropping their first league game to Cincinnati last week, Louisville (10-4, 0-1) badly needs to defend its home-court tonight against the Mountaineers.

Earl Clark is expected to be back in the
starting lineup tonight.

"We have to go out there and (win) knowing we lost our first game," said Juan Palacios, who needs only eight points to become Louisville's 58th career 1,000-point scorer. "We cannot keep losing at home."

West Virginia boasts a balanced offensive attack. Four starters average in double-figures scoring, led by guard Alex Rouff (16.4) and forward Joe Alexander (15.6). Forward De'Shawn Butler averages 12.6 points and point guard Darris Nichols chips in almost 11 points per contest.

"This is as good a team that we've had coming in here all year and it's one of the better teams in the country," Pitino said. "They do some things remarkably well. The thing that jumps out at you more than anything else is a team that averages 85 points per game and only turns it over 11 times. That's an amazing accomplishment."

West Virginia has no problem scoring points. The Mountaineers average 83.1 points, 17th in the NCAA. WVU is also third nationally in scoring margin at 22.4 points, and also ranks tenth nationally in fewest turnovers with only 11.5 per game.

"They share the basketball extremely well and their point guard has a great assist-turnover ratio," Pitino said. "This is a very talented basketball team. They still run a lot of the same things offensively that John Beilien ran and they play the defense that Bob Huggins is instituting. They've got a lot of offensive weapons."

The Mountaineers, who dropped their first Big East league game 69-56 to Notre Dame, can hurt opponents in multiple ways.

"It's not only the three with these guys; they also drive to the basket (well)," Pitino said. "They run backdoor quite a bit and we've got to be ready for that. They had a lot of open shots against Notre Dame but they just didn't go down."

With Huggins on the bench, West Virginia has also made strides on defense and in the toughness department.

"They've improved their rebounding tremendously," Pitino said. "That's the biggest change from West Virginia from last year to this year. Last year, you could offensive rebound against them. That was their weakness. This team does not give up the offensive rebound easy."

Here's some good news for the Cardinals, who have won five of their last six games: During that time frame, Louisville has won those five games by an average of 13.8 points, hit 53 three-points shots, limited opponents to 59.7 points and made 8.7 steals per game.

Pitino also said he's pleased with the improvements he's seen from sophomore guards Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa in recent days. Smith scored 17 points against Kentucky and has averaged 15 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals over the last four games while shooting 56 percent from the field. Smith has also hit 10 of his last 21 three-pointers.

Sosa, meanwhile, appears to be getting it. The 6'1 point guard made 3-6 shots, including 2-3 from deep to score 10 points against Kentucky. He also grabbed three rebounds and committed only one turnover in 23 minutes of action.

Louisville also expects to have sophomore forward Earl Clark back in the starting lineup against West Virginia. Clark was suspended against Kentucky for violating undisclosed team rules. Clark averages 11.8 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

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