Showdown – Big East style!

It doesn't get much bigger than Big Monday. Two of the league's hottest teams – Louisville (14-5, 5-2) and UConn (14-5, 4-3) – square off in Hartford, CT Monday night in a crucial Big East showdown on ESPN.

It doesn't get much bigger than Big Monday. Two of the league's hottest teams – Louisville (14-5, 5-2) and UConn (14-5, 4-3) – square off in Hartford, CT Monday night in a crucial Big East showdown on ESPN.

The stakes will be extremely high for both teams when the game tips-off at 7 p.m.

Louisville, at 5-2 in the league, currently sits alone in second place in the Big East standings, just one game behind nationally-ranked Georgetown (6-1). The game is also important for UConn, who finds itself bunched with five others teams just behind Louisville, Georgetown and Notre Dame (4-2) with a 4-3 conference record.

Despite a setback last week at Seton Hall, the Cardinals are blazing hot coming into tonight's showdown with the Huskies, having won 10 of their last 12 games, including Saturday's 67-57 win over St. John's at home.

If Louisville is hot, UConn is smoking. The Huskies have won 9 of their last 12 games, including back-to-back wins over No. 13 Marquette and No. 7 Indiana. UConn knocked off the Hoosiers, 68-63, Saturday in Bloomington.


Juan Palacios and the Cards face a big road
challenge against UConn Monday night.

"We haven't had a lot of time to study them, but we have been working on them the past week," Rick Pitino said. "So we know them pretty well. They're one of the hottest teams in the Big East – even the game they lost at Georgetown they could have won. They are as physically talented as any team in the Big East."

Though UConn is a high-scoring outfit, the Huskies rely on a stingy defense that leads the nation in blocked shots (8.7 per game) and ranks 11th nationally in field goal defense (38 percent).

7'3 sophomore center Hasheem Thabeet is a big reason for the Huskies defensive prowess.

"He's improved his foul-shooting and his offensive game," Pitino said. "They position him near the rim and it's so tough to stop him because of his length and size. He's always been a great defensive player and shot blocker."

"Connecticut's always been the leader in shot blocking and they are a great field goal defensive team," added Pitino. "They are a great transition team offensively because they feed off the blocked shot and the defensive rebound. Their whole team goes after the blocked shot. It's a pride thing with them."

If Louisville hopes to come away with a big win over Connecticut, the Cardinals will have to neutralize the physical Huskies, who out-rebound their opponents by 7.2 boards per game, on the glass.

"They dominated IU on the glass," Pitino said. "The interesting thing is IU shot a very low percentage and UConn still had more offensive rebounds."

Even without starting guard and leading scorer Jerome Dyson and key reserve guard Doug Wiggins, second on the team in assists, the Huskies were still able to walk out of Bloomington with a big upset. UConn will also be without Dyson and Wiggins against Louisville.

"That won't change our game-plan," Pitino said.

Not only did UConn dominate the glass against Indiana, they also hurt the Hoosiers with dribble penetration. The Cardinals will try to keep the athletic Huskies in front of them, perhaps employing a variety of zone defenses.

"They took IU off the bounce – that was the difference in the game," Pitino said. "They just kept beating IU off the dribble. That was a big factor in IU losing the game."

"I think their transition game on offense is terrific. I think their rebounding is terrific. I think their defense is outstanding. And their shot blocking ability is No. 1 in the country."

Though UConn leads the overall series with Louisville 3-2, the Cardinals won both games between the two Big East powers last season – 68-54 in Louisville and 76-69 in Hartford.

"Last year is last year and there's never a correlation between the two," Pitino said. "You can't compare last year to this year because they're a totally different basketball team and Thabeet is a totally different basketball player. He was only a freshman last year and he's a totally different player this time around."

The keys for Louisville on offense will be taking good shots, making good decisions with the basketball and being precise in their half court offensive sets.

"We're breaking our offense too much," Pitino said. "That always leads to something bad happening because when one guy breaks it nobody else is in position to rebound, we're not spaced properly and our balance is not good at the defensive end.

One critical matchup to keep an eye on: UConn's offense vs. Louisville defense. While the Huskies average 80 points per game, the Cards are allowing just 60 points and rank 15th nationally in field goal percentage defense.

"Our defense has been good the whole season," Pitino said. "We've been changing quite a bit. I don't think there's one defense that I can say is great – I think all the defenses have been good to us because we change a lot. The change is keeping the offense off-balance."

While Louisville's defense has been strong lately, the Cardinals have been susceptible against long-range bombers like Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell and St. John's forward Anthony Mason, who both scored 29 points against UofL in recent games.

"The only thing I'm concerned about is we're letting guys like Anthony Mason go off on us," Pitino said. "He had four three's in the first half so that's a little disappointing that we're letting the best players have big nights."


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