Cards, Friars heading in opposite directions

No. 23 Louisville (19-6, 9-3) travels to Providence Saturday afternoon for a key Big East game against the Friars. It's a game involving two teams heading in opposite directions.

No. 23 Louisville travels to Providence Saturday afternoon for a key Big East game against the Friars.

It's a game involving two teams heading in opposite directions.

While the Cardinals have won 10 of their last 12 games, including their last four, the Friars have lost six of their last seven games, including an 82-63 loss at Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

Still, Louisville coach Rick Pitino considers Providence a dangerous opponent for his sizzling Cards.

The Cards are riding a four-game win
streak heading into Providence.

"If you watch the Connecticut game they are a scary group because they have talent, they shoot the ball great and have experience," Pitino said. "This Providence team is the scariest shooting team I've seen. They like to fast break and run but when they're shooting the basketball they can beat anybody."

In their 77-65 win at UConn last month, Providence torched the nets - and the Huskies - with 14 of 24 three-point shooting. Dwain Williams hit 6-9 three's in that game, while Brian McKenzie made 4-4.

The Friars have five players averaging double-figures scoring, led by 6'1 junior guard Jeff Xavier. Xavier has hit 63-167 three-pointers this season. 6'8 forward Geoff McDermott averages 10.3 points and leads the Friars with 8.3 rebounds.

"One of the things that we've got to be really tuned into is how deep they can shoot it, at how many different positions they can shoot it," said Pitino. "They are a much better shooting team than Seton Hall because they shoot it with more players. This is a very tough game."

Since falling at UConn 69-67 Jan. 28, Louisville has won four straight games to position itself near the top of the Big East standings. Tuesday's win over DePaul improved the Cardinals to 9-3 in the conference – second place behind Georgetown. With six games remaining, Louisville is looking to close out the regular-season strong.

"We said two weeks ago that we wanted to win eight out of ten games and (some) people thought that was too lofty a goal looking at our schedule," Pitino said. "Now it's four out of six and it's a little more realistic. You want to try to win every game because you never know where the wins and losses are going to come in the Big East."

During their recent four-game winning streak, Louisville has played its best basketball of the season. In wins over Rutgers, Marquette and Georgetown, the Cards used stingy defense to get to the winners circle. Tuesday at DePaul, Louisville got their offense clicking to match their usually strong defense, handing out 27 assists and shooting 58 percent from the floor.

"You just can't embrace (success); you just have to focus in on each game because these games are so difficult," Pitino said. "But the most important thing to me what I like to see is we're playing cohesively at the offensive and defensive end."

Coming off a big win over Georgetown, Louisville jumped on DePaul from the start the other night, a showing that impressed their coach.

"I told them the truly gifted teams are the ones that are fired up for DePaul not the ones that are fired up for Georgetown and Marquette because that's natural," Pitino said. "Can you do it on a snowy day when there are 4 or 5,000 fans in the stands? And they did it."

Now the Cardinals are set to face Providence on the road before returning home Monday to face Syracuse.

"We're probably going to see 90 percent zone in the next two games," Pitino said. "On the ride home from (DePaul) I watched Syracuse play Providence and it was 100 percent zone in that game. It's a different type of execution. So everything changes."

Pitino said his team spends two segments during practice each day working against zone defense.

"The key to beating zone defenses is you've got to attack the middle of the floor and not the sidelines," Pitino said. "You've got to have good ball movement and player movement, you have to have offensive rebounding, you have to attack the middle and use dribble penetration. But without question you have to shoot the ball. The key to us shooting well is to make sure we take unchallenged shots."

NOTES: Junior Terrence Williams needs only 12 points to become the Cardinals 59th career 1,000 point scorer.

Louisville's schedule this season ranks as the 17th toughest in the nation the RPI. The Cardinals are ranked No. 17 overall in the RPI ratings.

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