Cards face big test against No. 13 Marquette

Louisville (12-4, 2-1) enters Thursday night's showdown against Marquette on a hot streak, having won seven of their last eight games. While the Cardinals are improving, they'll face a major test from the 13th-ranked Golden Eagles.

Louisville appears on the rise and has shown steady, if not significant, improvement in recent weeks.

Rick Pitino's Cardinals are now healthy and have all their major components (see: David Padgett and Juan Palacios) back from injury.

Louisville has also won seven of their last eight games, including Sunday's 64-49 win at Rutgers.

And, for the first time since November, the Cardinals have re-entered's power rankings, checking in at No. 22 this week.

But the Cardinals face a major test Thursday night when No. 13 Marquette visits Freedom Hall for an ESPN2 televised showdown.

Earl Clark must step up for Louisville.

"They do a lot of things that cause problems for teams," Pitino said. "I think we're a tough team but the jury is still out on how good we'll be because we just got healthy. We're practicing well and working hard but we'll get a big test playing the 13th ranked team in the country."

The Golden Eagles are coming off an impressive 92-66 victory over Notre Dame – a win that snapped the Irish's ten-game winning streak. In that game, Marquette torched the Irish from the three-point line, making 12 of 24 three's and forced 24 Notre Dame turnovers.

"They're playing at a very high level," Pitino said. "Their Notre Dame game was scary to watch because they had 17 steals. They are probably the best steal team in the country. They have quickness, attitude and they pursue the basketball. If you chart their deflections it's probably off the charts."

Four Marquette players average double-figure scoring and the Golden Eagles are led by a trip of talented perimeter players – point guard Dominic James (14.9, 4.3), shooting guard Wes Matthews (10.5) and wing Jerel McNeal (13.5, 4.8).

"Dominic James is one of my favorite players that I've watched in college basketball," Pitino said. "Every year he adds something to his game and now he has become a great passer besides being a bulldog defender and a terrific scorer."

Louisville also will have to deal with 6'7 forward Lazar Hayward, who has been hot from outside this season.

"He's shooting the ball great right now," Pitino said. "He's shooting 47 percent from the three-point line and any time you have a four-man that can step away from the basket and shoot that kind of percentage it's a lethal weapon because it allows the other guys to dribble penetrate without the big guys to help in the lane."

The major contrast of the game is this: Marquette is explosive offensively, averaging more than 80 points per game; Louisville, one of the top defensive units in the country, allows only 58.9 points per contest. Who wins that battle likely will emerge the victor.

"Outside of the Kentucky game we haven't scored the points we like to score but that's more the opponent than anything else," Pitino said. "Marquette is difficult to stop but they're so good because they are very good defensively."

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