Cards face tough challenge in Pittsburgh

Louisville (21-6, 11-3) begins its drive down the regular-season stretch Sunday afternoon with a tough test at slumping Pittsburgh.

Louisville (21-6, 11-3) begins its drive down the regular-season stretch this afternoon with a tough test at slumping Pittsburgh.

With four games in the regular-season left to play, Louisville already has an NCAA tournament bid locked down.

Earl Clark and Louisville expect a stern
test against Pittsburgh.

But the Cardinals still have plenty left to play for. One, tied for first in the Big East standing, Louisville has a chance to win its first regular-season Big East title. The Cardinals are also shooting for a first-round bye in next month's Big East tournament. Likewise, Pitino would like to see his troops keep winning to improve their NCAA seeding .

It won't be an easy road. First up are the Panthers, who have dropped their last two games, including an 82-70 decision to Notre Dame on the road earlier this week. The Cardinals also have Notre Dame, Villanova and Georgetown remaining on the schedule.

"We try to win every game but I don't think it's realistic to say we'll win all four of these games," Pitino said. "You've got to (approach) it by saying look we've got to win this game, win the next game. The most important thing for us is to keep playing good basketball and get a bye. We need to get that bye so we have a chance to win the Big East tournament."

Though Pittsburgh has lost their last two games, the Panthers are never an easy opponent at home. Since opening the Peterson Events Center six years ago, Pittsburgh owns a 94-9 record at home, including 14-1 this season. Louisville won last season at Peterson.

"This is probably the toughest four games of the season for us because it's two teams on the road that are very difficult and then two teams at (against) teams that are playing great," added Pitino. "So these four teams will be a great challenge for us. We're No. 14 in the RPI and with the teams we're playing we could move up."

Pittsburgh, which has four double-figures scorers, is led by 6'6 forward Sam Young (18.0, 6.8). 6'7 freshman Dejuan Blair (11.7) provides toughness, while guards Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields provide experience and scoring punch in the backcourt. Fields returned two games ago after missing 12 games with injury.

"Sam Young is having a great year. He's playing terrific basketball," said Pitino. "I'm sure getting Fields back is really going to help them. They're a tough basketball team. They always are."

Louisville is 6-0 in the month of February and has won 12 of its last 14 games. In their last two games, wins over Providence and Syracuse, the Cardinals faced zone defense almost exclusively. While Pittsburgh will test Louisville with some zone, the Panthers figure to come at the Cardinals man-to-man.

"Pittsburgh will play zone too but not as much – probably about 70-30 (man-to-man)," Pitino said.

In beating Syracuse 61-50 last Tuesday, Louisville dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Orange 53-35. The Cardinals will need a similar effort, especially on the offensive boards, to keep Pittsburgh from getting out on the fast break.

"They are a surprisingly good fast break team," Pitino said. "They hurt us last year in the Garden with the fast break – they got 18 points off the break."

The game will be televised live on WHAS-11 with tip-off at 12 p.m.

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